On a warm June day in 1956, a boat sped across a lake in upstate New York. Striking a rogue wave, the impact threw a man and a young girl out of the boat into the water. The man held the girl up above the water as the boat circled back. But while the girl was being pulled to safety, the man sank into the waters. On that day, Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, drowned while rescuing a girl whose name he did not know.
Evangelicals still recall this act of unselfish heroism.
On 9/11 in New York City, the heroes were the first responders. Today in New York City—and in towns and urban centers across our world—the heroic healthcare workers serve the masses infected from COVID-19, often at great risk and selfless sacrifice.
In uncertain times, acts of heroism bolster our faith and give us hope.
Holy Week comes just in time this year— we need this week and the message it brings. This week, Christians around the globe remember the sacrifice of Jesus. The stories of heroism inspire us, but the truth of Easter does even more: it transforms.
Holy Week is different this year because of the aggressive spread of a global pandemic. No plague has ever altered the truth of redemption, and this novel virus doesn’t change the reality that Holy Week and Easter reveal.
The practical ways we observe this season will be different—video venues, in-home communion for some, cancelled Easter egg hunts—but the unchanging truth of Easter remains unaffected by the virus. In fact, maybe even more this year it offers us renewed hope in the middle of this pandemic.
Holy Week reveals contrasts: crucifixion and resurrection, death and life, sin and salvation, sorrow and hope. How can we best prepare to remember the Paschal lamb in the middle of a lingering pandemic? We can renew our minds as Paul told us in Romans 12:2. Here are some specific ways you can do this during Holy Week.
Focus on Jesus and his timeless work on the cross, not temporary issues like social distancing.
While almost all of us are in some way affected by the novel coronavirus, we are not alone. God is in our midst. Easter reminds us of this.
We miss our gatherings of corporate worship; Easter Sunday will make that especially real. We miss the intimacy and proximity social distancing prevents. During Holy Week, think of a different distancing: not of church members from their church home, but of Jesus from his heavenly home; not of a pastor from his people, but of the Son from his Father.
This Easter remember what Paul wrote:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8)
Focus on the gospel, not secondary issues.
The gospel is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3). People are searching right now in ways we haven’t seen in our lifetime. If you are a church leader, don’t make the mistake of assuming people watching your services or being touched by your community work know what it means to be a Christian.
Churched and unchurched people realize Easter is different this year; it’s an opportunity for us to remind ourselves and others of the gospel. Let our focus be laser sharp on Jesus.
The gospel is the declaration of the victory we have in Christ because of his substitutionary death for our sin on the cross and his glorious resurrection over death. George Whitefield once said someone may preach the gospel better than him, but they won’t preach a better gospel.
There’s no better time than Easter, and especially this Easter, to tell this good news.
Focus on real suffering, not temporary discomfort.
At Easter, it is appropriate for us to lament the death and suffering caused by this pandemic: COVID-19 patients dying alone isolated from family; burials without ceremonies to grieve over the dead; the numbers of healthcare workers and others who will fall ill and die from this dreaded virus; the loss of jobs; and the mental health issues from the unsettledness of life.
It’s not okay to harp constantly about our boredom from being cooped up in our comfortable homes. Maybe this year more than others we can understand anew the paradox of Good Friday. It is good because of a blessed cataclysm: Christ’s death bringing us salvation.
As we lament, let our sorrow turn to the sinless Savior of the world, who suffered for us, and like Psalm 13, let our sorrow turn to praise.
Focus on hope, not despair.
This unprecedented season we are in, like a perpetual grey Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, seem to cover our world just now. But we are a people of hope, not despair. This is a season to remember the blessed hope we have in Christ (I Peter 1:3-9).
We treasure stories of heroism, whether a single act on a lake or a myriad of deeds by medical staff in a pandemic. As we prepare for Easter, let us lift our eyes to the One who died for us so we could have life, and let that focus bring us to worship our unchanging Lord in the middle of uncertain times.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.