Easter without Church

This Sunday most of us will celebrate Easter—the holiest day of the Christian year—without worshiping together. No one is really happy about it.

Blame it on COVID-19 and the social distancing that’s followed in its wake. Schools are out. Restaurants are closed. Many businesses have closed and many that remain open have furloughed their workers. Grocery stores allow only a few people at a time to shop. Until the virus runs its course, authorities tell us, we need to keep our distance from one another and stay at home.

And that means not going to church on Easter.

Not everyone understands how big a deal that is. For example, those who attend church only on major holidays look at failing to attend an Easter service like foregoing a college football game—more a matter of inconvenience than of sorrow. I once heard of a church member like that who had a confrontation with her pastor following an Easter service. When the pastor closed the service by wishing his congregation, “Merry Christmas,” the member demanded to know why he made such a silly remark. “Because I won’t see you again until then,” he replied.

Missing Easter with your church family leaves an empty place in your heart

But for those serious about their faith, not celebrating Easter in their church leaves an empty place in their heart. It feels like missing a family birthday or a close friend’s wedding.

One reason is the peculiar nature of Christian friendship. While connected by common beliefs, shared lifestyles or mutual interests, we’re linked to one another by something else, something the New Testament describes as koinonia. The word is usually rendered as “fellowship” but a more accurate translation is “shared life.” It means that we share God’s life on a deep, spiritual level when the Jesus who lives in my heart also lives in your heart.

And on Easter, heart calls to heart.

Together, Jesus makes us into the people he wants us to be

Another reason we yearn to worship together on Easter is the nature of the church. Whatever God is doing within our lives as individuals he’s also doing within the life of our church as a whole.

That’s the principle behind the New Testament word for church, ekklesia, an assembly of people called out for a purpose. Jesus calls us individually out of the world and into a lifestyle of following after him then places us in an assembly of others whom he has also called. Together—not separately—we become the people God wants us to be.

That principle is what lies behind Peter’s description of the church:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”(1 Peter 2:4-5)

Easter worship is our corporate shout of joy in Jesus’ plan.

So on every year on Easter we can’t wait to get to church. We buy new clothes. Visiting family attends with us. We plan a big dinner afterwards. And we revisit the story that never grows old–every time we hear it, it renews faith and opens our heart again to grace. God’s Son Jesus, crucified, dead and buried, was raised to new life by the Father. And what God did with Jesus he promises to do for us, too.

But not this year.

So what do we do?

Here are a few ideas about Easter without church this year. Maybe they’ll be an encouragement to you:

  • In this season of isolation we’re learning how much we need one another. That lesson carries over into our church life. I think we’ll value church more when all this is done.
  • Going through this Easter without corporate worship may well lead us into a great passion for worship in general. I’m sure that when we’re able to come back together in a few weeks, churches will be packed.
  • God is working in his church right now in some remarkable ways. He’s making clear some things that we’ve held on too long, like outmoded programs and unnecessary meetings. He’s also showing us other things we’ve forgotten but need to go back to, like making personal connections the main focus of ministry.

So as you celebrate Easter this year by yourself at home with just an open Bible, with family gathered around the kitchen table or via livestream or Facebook Live with your church, remember that Jesus,  crucified and risen from the dead is still there and still all that he ever was. And the church—even waiting as we are for better times—still belongs to him.

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