This is a unique Easter Sunday. Church buildings across the nation, and indeed the globe, are empty – actually locked up! Instead of the usual pomp associated with the season, this Easter is a rather somber one as people stay indoors in most nations – thanks to the Covid-19 lockdown. For many churches, services are celebrated online or on TV broadcasts.
It is a new terrain for many in the clergy and very confusing for their congregants. Some of us pastors have really struggled with this reality, considering it an affront to the freedom of the Gospel. Interestingly though, this is not the first time the Church has been in a lockdown at Easter. The events around the first Easter paint a grim picture.
Jesus had been a most celebrated personality during His life and ministry, bringing relief and deliverance to many people in distress. Everywhere He went, He was doing good. Thousands followed in His trail, giving Him no room for a personal moment. The peak came on that special Sunday morning – generally referred to as Palm Sunday or the Triumphal Entry – when He entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. The city was astir as ecstatic crowds lined up the road, carpeting it with their clothes and palm branches. It was a royal reception, often reserved for kings.
But events of that week deteriorated fast, culminating in His arrest and trial on Thursday night. By Friday morning, Jesus was a seriously tortured and bruised-up prisoner. The Roman police were more brutal than anything we are familiar with. The crowds that had previously thronged His meetings had dispersed, with some turning against Him at His trial. Their shouts of “Hosanna!” the previous Sunday, readily turned into “Crucify Him!” on Friday. And on the verdict of this grand public jury, the man they had celebrated only a few days earlier as their King was numbered with thieves and robbers and led away to be crucified.
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What is even worse is that some of His closest associates, Judas and Peter, turned against Him – the one betraying Him and the other denying any knowledge of Him. Therefore, by the time Jesus died, none of His close friends was nearby – not a single one to bury Him. But help came from an unusual quarter. The spirit of compassion gripped the heart of one of the members of the Jewish aristocracy, Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph offered his own tomb into which the body of Jesus was laid. It was a total lockdown for Jesus in the sealed tomb.
For His disciples, this was the end of the road. Though Jesus had promised He would rise again on the third day, the threat to their lives by the bloodthirsty authorities was worse than that of Covid-19. They went into self-quarantine. By the time Jesus rose from the dead on that first Easter Sunday, the Church was in a total lockdown – literally! John reports in John 20:19, “On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.” But, as the disciples were soon to discover, a human lockdown cannot lockout Jesus. As they huddled within the tightly locked room, Jesus appeared from nowhere and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” The resurrected Christ had defied all the lockdowns – the locked grave and the locked doors – and come to calm the fears of His people.
Many pastors and some believers have somehow worried that a lockdown at Easter may have robbed us of a true encounter with the resurrected Christ. Not at all! The current lockdown may keep us away from each other, but the resurrected Christ can visit with us anywhere.
He does not require a cathedral, a temple, or tent of meeting to speak peace to His people. It is well possible to encounter Him all alone – like He appeared to Mary; on the road – like He did to two men on the Road to Emmaus; behind a closed door – like He did to the Disciples; or in a small group – like He did to many others.
In the current situation, the threat of Covid-19 is real. Lessons from other nations show that if we adhere to the measures outlined by the government, we can beat this disease.
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Let us not be afraid of a temporary lockdown. The clear message of Easter is that, with God on our side, we shall rise again – a stronger and more powerful nation. No lockdown can lock us down.
- The writer is the presiding bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries. [email protected]