As the COVID-19 pandemic brought global suffering and death to so many over the past several weeks, Christians eagerly anticipated Easter Sunday with its promise of new life.
Now that the holiday has come and gone, Christians might be tempted to move on. With the scope of the suffering around the world, and trajectories continuing to warn that the worst isn’t over, it would be easy to set aside any Easter joy and hope. But Jesus’ resurrection is not reserved for a single Sunday. Easter may have passed, but the hope of Resurrection is new every morning because Jesus is physically risen from the dead.
Jesus died for our sins, physically rose from the dead, and appeared to many eyewitnesses as recounted in the Gospels and throughout the Epistles. In the New Testament, hope is a confident expectation that God has fulfilled and will fulfill his promises of redemption for his people and for the world in his Son, Jesus Christ.
Christians especially need to remember this word during times of suffering. As Paul himself attests, because we’ve been justified by faith in Jesus Christ, we have both peace with God and hope in God when we suffer (Rom. 5:1–5). This hope “does not disappoint” (v. 5, NLT).
I understand how it can be hard to keep the Resurrection at the forefront when death threatens us, our communities, and those we love.
In 2018, my beloved Auntie, who raised me as if I were her own son, died a horrible death. It was the culmination of a long and painful battle with multiple sicknesses, and hope seemed hopeless.
As I cared for her in those final weeks, I often felt like the hope of Jesus’ resurrection was a biblical and theological truth that I intellectually affirmed but was not sustaining me in those circumstances. It seemed impossible to do anything but despair in those hospital rooms when my Auntie offered up loud cries to God for help as she suffered, or in the ICU when she was in a coma, or in hospice as I watched her slowly transition from this life to the next a couple of weeks before Christmas.
This pandemic is reminding all of us that life is uncertain, fragile, and too short. Along with the rest of creation, Christians should cry out with agonizing groans, disappointments, fears, and brokennes, as we long for the infections, sicknesses, suffering, and deaths to cease. We know this is not the way things should be (Rom. 8:18).
We mourn the world’s current plight. Yet we do not give up on the joy of Resurrection Sunday, with its triumphant hymns proclaiming a risen Savior. Our tears flow from hearts of hopeful lament. We eagerly wait for God in Christ to bring about creation’s redemption from its bondage to sin, sickness, death, and suffering, as we work toward and long for the flourishing of all image-bearers now (Rom. 8:19–21, Gal. 6:10).
We can still have hope amid a pandemic, and even celebrate as we lament, because we believe in a God who proved sickness and death do not have the final word (1 Cor. 15).
Even right now, God is acting on our behalf because Jesus is risen from the dead. The Spirit matches creation’s groans of lament with prayers of inexpressible utterances as he helps us and prays for us when we don’t know what to pray because our current suffering is unbearable (Rom. 8:26–27). The Spirit’s prayers guarantee that God will work out our suffering for our good because of his redemptive work in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28–30).
A little over a year ago, when my Auntie was in the ICU—those hospital wings now being filled with fragile, struggling coronavirus patients—the Lord showed our family the hope of Jesus’ resurrection. Before Auntie died, after 22 years of praying for her and witnessing to her, I had the privilege of leading her to faith in Jesus Christ.
And God has continued his work. A year later, I had the privilege of leading my mom, her sister, to faith in Jesus Christ, and then my 11-year-old son. I don’t know the purpose of Auntie’s suffering and death at the age of 59, and I still mourn her death. But because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, my family has hope.
The suffering that inevitably accompanies this pandemic—the death, sickness, fear, loss, isolation, and financial struggle—will be hard to bear. It will seem overwhelming and inexplicable. And yet, it’s incomparable to the glory that God will reveal in us when he liberates the entire creation from its bondage to sin (Rom. 8:18).
Even during this inexplicable time of suffering like we’ve never seen before, when death seems to span the globe and lurk right next door, Christians must remember we are more than conquerors through Christ (Rom. 8:31–39). We are united to God’s love in Jesus Christ by faith because he died for our sins, rose from the dead, and sits at God’s right hand reigning in triumphant victory over the power of sin and death (Col. 1–2).
As he reigns, Jesus prays for us in anticipation of that great day when his redeemed will reign with him on earth in a glorified world (Rev. 19:1–22:21).
In the meantime, we live with the hope of the Resurrection, and we practice a love ethic that compels us to love our neighbors well and wisely and to seek the common good of all people, even when that means we must practice social distancing and stay at home. We dream up new ways to share the message of God’s salvation with—and show the love of Christ to—our family and neighbors for whom Easter Sunday was just another day on the calendar. As the suffering around us grows, we pray for the gospel and God’s kingdom to continue to advance.
Easter Sunday has come and gone, and what lies ahead is unknown even to the best forecasters, statisticians, and scientists. But the truth of the Resurrection has not changed, and our hope in Jesus is still certain because he is risen from the dead!
Jarvis J. Williams is an associate professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He’s the author of numerous books, including a recent Galatians commentary.