We are in a moment when every facet of our daily lives seems to be dominated by a single topic. We’re inundated with messages, recommendations, and questions about our new normal at such a steady pace that to talk about almost anything else seems to somehow downplay the seriousness of the situation.
In everyday life, pandemics, quarantines, and handwashing procedures are far from the usual topics of conversation, but here we are. Virtually every aspect of the present American life has become affected by COVID-19, and the risks that this disease poses to our wellbeing as a society must not be taken lightly. And this weekend, we encounter another unexpected circumstance of this outbreak - the inability to gather for worship on Easter.
Life over Death
For a Christian, Easter stands as the annual reminder for the fundamental victory Jesus has secured over death through his resurrection, and the resurrection stands for many things. It is evidence to the completeness of the work of the cross; it is validation that Jesus’ claim as Son of God became true; it is God’s demonstration that death is not the end.
While the resurrection is all those things, the power of the resurrection is more than just a symbol. It is a spiritual reality for those who know Jesus Christ. And in the same way that Christ was brought to life in that tomb, God brings the spirit of His children alive to Him.
Paul, writing to the church at Philippi, desired to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection (Phil 3:10). Knowing Jesus comes with resurrection power. This could probably be most strongly emphasized by Paul when he writes to the church of Rome ". . . if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies, through His Spirit who dwells in you," (Romans 8:11) Christians do not need to fear death, and the power of the resurrection assures us of that fact.
The Christian Response
So how are we to respond to a mandate that means the body cannot gather to celebrate the resurrection?
A Christian perspective on what it means “to gather” in the 21st century means that we are dedicated to seeing the worship of Jesus is not interrupted, the mission of the Church to make disciples continues, and we proceed to support the wellbeing of the communities in which we live. And here is good news amid troubling times - there isn’t anything that says these things can’t be done digitally. The mission of the Church as a body is not incompatible with social distancing.
As a new believer in High School, one verse that really confused me was Matthew 18:20, where Jesus says, “wherever two or three are gathered in My name, I am with them.” What does that mean for someone hiking in the woods, or alone on an hour-long commute? What it surely does not mean is there is some minimum requirement to access Jesus, and it does not mean one person praying alone will be unheard. But it does mean there is a special significance to when people gather to worship Jesus, thank Him for what He has done, and seek to build up other believers. In a world that is connected by cell phones and video calls, it is necessary to see these technologies as the avenue that He is using to allow us to continue together to maintain the mission of the body. We are certainly “together in spirit” when we leverage technology to gather to celebrate the resurrection.
What service looks like now is different, both worship service and service in the community. But during these times, we as Christians have an opportunity to be distinct in the way that we love, give, and help in our communities. We are also responsible for how we obey the authorities placed over us and abide by the instructions of experts who are trying to maintain the health of as many people as possible. We should in no way live in fear of spiritual and physical death. The power of the resurrection has secured our victory over death. But we should absolutely practice the utmost caution when it comes to ensuring the continued life and health of others in our communities. We must take precautions in order to protect as many in our communities as possible.
Life in the image of God is innately valuable. Does that mean that practically every Church in America will be empty Easter Sunday?
Does this in any way slow the worship and celebration of Christ resurrected?
The River Church Staff