When Easter isn’t a Major Key Holiday

 

On December 26, I published a post titled, “When Christmas Isn’t a Major Key Holiday.” It seemed to resonate with a number of people who also found themselves feeling unfestive as they dealt with grief and heartache during the season of “glad tidings and joy.”

I concluded,

Grief and heartache aren’t unfestive. They aren’t incompatible with Christmas. In fact, they’re the perfect platform for true Christmas spirit to bloom…

Perhaps, like O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Christmas is more about a cry of anguish than holiday cheer and warm fuzzies. Of aching longing for eternity rather than rosy contentment with earthly things. Of desperate expectation rather than idyllic sentiment. Of hope – hope in what has come, yes, but more so in what is yet to come.

Perhaps where our anguish and the hope of Christmas meet, we experience a glimpse of the true peace and joy of Christmas. Perhaps the key to Christmas spirit isn’t found in ideal circumstances or putting on a happy face or pretending Christmas doesn’t exist, but rather in embracing the anguish as we desperately cry out, flat on our face, with tears streaming and heart breaking, “O come, o come, Emmanuel!”

Little did I know when I wrote those words that Easter of 2020 would in many ways feel like a repeat of Christmas: a usually “major key” holiday arriving in the form of dissonant chords in a minor key. Coronavirus has drastically altered life across the globe in a startling matter of days. Like whiplash, the sudden halt to normalcy has left people bewildered and hurting and feeling anything but celebratory.

In our American context, we are used to Easter week being full of pastel colors, blooming flowers, new dresses in the latest floral prints, Easter egg hunts, loads of chocolate, visits with relatives, upbeat worship songs celebrating the Resurrection, and inspiring sermons about the victory of the resurrection. Perhaps we attend a somber Good Friday service or watch The Passion of the Christ to remind us of the more gory, solemn side of Easter, but we quickly get back to the heartwarming reality that Christ triumphed over sin and death.

What if the same conclusion I came to at Christmastime is true of Easter, too? What if grief and heartache aren’t anti-Easter but the doorway to a deeper, truer, more poignant kind of Easter joy? What if grief, heartache, confusion, isolation, disillusionment, and fear are exactly the Easter lead-up emotions that give way to the deepest kind of worship?

On Good Friday, Jesus’ disciples, family, and friends went to bed devastated and grieving. Their dreams had been crushed. Their hopes of deliverance dashed. Their would-be king hung on a cross. Their friend was in a tomb. Their band of brothers was temporarily disbanded: one had sold Jesus out, all of them fled out of fear, and one of them denied him three times. After all he had done for them, in His time of need, they were no where to be found.

They were hurting. Confused. Isolated. Disillusioned. Disappointed. Afraid. Grieving. Ashamed. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to be. Was it? Easter week had begun with joyful celebration. Yet it ended with something entirely different. What happened?

They couldn’t see that something better was coming. Something greater than their greatest hopes. There was no joy for the disciples that night, or the next or the next. There was no bright spot on the horizon.

Just days before, Jesus had triumphantly entered Jerusalem on a donkey while people waved palm branches and effectively declared that He was their awaited Messiah. He’d been healing all their diseases. Raising their dead. Curing their blind. Feeding their hungry. They could follow him whenever they wanted and return to the comfort of their homes when his words became uncomfortable. They were ready for deliverance from all the things they didn’t like and he was their guy. Their ticket to freedom. The genie to their dreams.

Perhaps Palm Sunday represents our lives up until now. We have lived in the privileged comfort of life in a first-world country where our personal freedom and convenience are our gods. Where it’s easy to declare Jesus is King because it comes at little to no personal cost. Where we unabashedly use hashtags like #firstworldproblems because we’re so privileged we can even joke about it. Where we do what we want, when we want.

Maybe the Easter joy we are used to experiencing is actually Palm Sunday joy. It’s the joy of good times; the joy of living in a state of comfort; of having a god who mostly gives you what you want and expects little in return; of thinking our happiness is attainable with that next relationship, that next promotion, that newest iphone; of full bellies and satisfied sweet tooths.

But where is joy in shouting “Crucify him!”? Where is joy in the betraying kiss of a friend? In the sting of the whip and agony of the crown of thorns? In realizing the one you put your hope in is about to die, leaving you empty and confused? In the horrifying sound of the weeping and moaning of a bereaved mother at the foot of the cross? In the realization that you put the nails in his hands yourself?

The joy is there, friends. It is Sunday’s joy, but it is there. It is there in the sighing whisper,”It is finished.” It is there in the realization that everything he said WAS true…which means if he’s dying now, he’ll be living later. It is there in the kingdom of heaven breaking in, poking a cosmic hole in Brokenness. It is there in the tearing of the veil that has separated man and God for generations.

Easter is only a joyful occasion if Good Friday is a torturous one. For only when we are acutely aware of the brokenness around us, of the blood of guilt on our own hands, of the hopelessness of everything else around us…only then can Easter be good news. Pain is the birthplace of joy.

We are keenly aware of the brokenness around us right now. The illusion of Palm Sunday has spoiled. The tables have been turned. The entire world is groaning and aching even more intensely than usual at the afflictions of disease, injustice, hunger, economic uncertainty, fear, and loneliness because of COVID-19. Everything around us looks bleak and hopeless, empty and vain. We feel like we’re trying to contain and elephant in a birdcage, shoving one limb in only to have another fall out. On top of it all, the situation is only revealing our worry, selfishness, fears, idols, fragility, and helplessness that have been there all along.

Our dreams have been crushed. Our savings accounts drained. Our sense of control squelched. Our hopes of deliverance from this nightmare dashed. Our countrymen, even friends and family, lie in graves. Our communities are disbanded, isolated. Our deliverers of modern medicine, science, and intellect overwhelmed by a giant foe.

Maybe we don’t need more Palm Sunday joy this year. Maybe we don’t need celebrations and feasts and egg hunts and big to dos to find joy in Easter. Maybe we don’t need life to return to normal so that we can celebrate appropriately.

Maybe what we need is the lonely, quiet, uncomfortable silence of socially distanced living in the middle of a pandemic we cannot control to scrape off the layers of false joy, comfort, security, and hope we have covered up for so long. Maybe there in the depths of the agony of our deepest fears, heartache, grief, pain, confusion, disappointment, and disillusionment, we will discover true joy: the joy that comes when you realize that something great is coming. Something greater than your greatest hopes. That in fact, Jesus IS everything you’ve been looking for, only far, far better.

So friends, this may Easter look different for you than it ever has before. Maybe you don’t feel like celebrating. Maybe you’re planning to ignore it; it’s just another day, right? Maybe you’re trying to recapture as much of your sense of normal Easter festivities as you can muster in your own home and virtually. Maybe you’re trying to conjure up some leftover Palm Sunday joy that has to be stashed somewhere, right?

But maybe you should embrace the painful context of this Easter. Dig deep into the heartache. Let it be as uncomfortable as it actually is. Lay down your expectations for everything you thought life was supposed to be, how God was supposed to work. Admit that brokenness sucks. Acknowledge that coronavirus only reveals the things that have always been true: we are weak. We are finite. We are mortal. Wealth is fleeting. Security is momentary. Comfort is blinding.

Maybe this pandemic gives us the unique opportunity to strip away all the distractions, all the secondary sources of joy that so easily become primary, all the coverups for the things we don’t want to face, and simply sit with the story of Easter. Maybe as we see that the bad news is worse than we thought, we will also see that the good news is far better than we could have imagined. Maybe we will remember that this is not our Home, and that the deep ache we feel for the world to be right won’t go away when coronavirus is over.

Maybe then the true joy of Resurrection will sink deep into our hearts. Jesus is alive, and He is King of a Kingdom that is far better than this world could ever be.

Maybe Easter isn’t a major key holiday this year, and maybe that’s ok. Because the dissonant chords of life on this earth won’t find their resolve until Jesus returns. And if He’s risen tomorrow, He WILL be returning later.

 

 

Lessons from Labor: Do Not Worry

 

Thanks to the COVID-19 coronavirus, we are living in a state of crisis. Not just locally, or even nationally, but globally!

Now, more than ever, we share in an insurmountable mountain of things to worry about – will we or our loved ones get sick? Will we find toilet paper? Will our paycheck ever return? When will we see our friends again? How will we mentally and emotionally survive isolated living for the foreseeable future?

Yet Jesus tells us “do not worry about tomorrow, for today has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). If He tells us not to worry, then it must be possible not to worry — but how?

I sent this video to some ladies from church the other day as the fruit of my own wrestling with the Lord last week on that very question. It is not easy to not worry, but it IS possible. Watch to find out how!

 

 

5 Ways to Live as Followers of Jesus in Light of COVID-19

 

The whole world is talking about the COVID-19 pandemic. Life as we know it has come to a screeching halt. The future remains uncertain. We stand on the precipice of something that could change the way our world and culture operate forever – or life could return to normal in a matter of months. We don’t know. We know people will get sick. We know some will die. We don’t know how many.

How do we respond to a crisis like this? Apathy is the wrong reaction. So is anxiety.  How, then, do we navigate through this unique time?

I’m in the throes of working through it just like you are, but here are a few places my prayers are landing me.

Stay Informed, but Not Consumed

Knowledge is power, right? Ignorance is not bliss in a situation like this and it’s certainly not love – at best it’s selfish stupidity. This is the time to become informed and stay informed. Know what is going on globally, nationally, locally. Keep up with the latest recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and local and federal governments. Research to understand viruses, communicability, basic statistics, etc.

However, as important as it is to stay informed, it’s equally important not to be consumed. I’ve been spending far too much time reading headline after headline, article after article, without really learning anything new. The only fruit that yields is anxiety.

Therefore, I’m choosing to limit the amount of information I take in. My goal is no more than 3 times a day (morning, lunchtime, and night), 10 minutes at a time, using NPR and BBC to check for new developments I should be aware of and scroll through my Facebook feed (let’s be honest – pretty much everything on social media is related to COVID-10 right now. So I’m putting social media in the category of coronavirus-related reading). Even 10 minutes 3x/day is still probably too much, but less than once a day would be too little right now.

My encouragement? Set limits, and determine that for as much time as you spend taking in information about the COVID-19 crisis (this includes posts like this one!), you spend at least twice that in prayer, reading Scripture, and fellowshiping with other believers who live in your home or via technology.  Prayer, Scripture, and fellowship will do far more to combat your apathy or anxiety than all the news reading/watching and research in the world could do.

Live Wisely

Knowing how to live wisely in light of COVID-19 feels like a daunting task, even with the recommendations that are in place. There are still many micro-decisions to make. Do we have over that friend who gets depressed when she’s by herself too much, or do we stay completely to ourselves? How much groceries and household supplies do we keep on hand? Do we budget normally, or do we drastically pull back to a barebones budget in case of a recession? Do we tell our children everything or nothing, or something in between?

Where is the line between panic-living and denial-living, between overreaction and underreaction?

The truth is, “the line” doesn’t exist. It’s more like a large grey area that sits in between the two extremes. Navigating that grey area requires wisdom.

And you know what? Wisdom doesn’t begin with a fear of coronavirus. It doesn’t begin with a fear of quarantined living. It doesn’t begin with a fear of economic catastrophe.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Wisdom begins with fear of the Lord. He calls us to submit to earthly authorities (second to His authority), so we start by doing what our government is clearly asking of us. After that, we lay the rest at the feet of the Lord with reverence and awe and ask for wisdom. There, and only there, will we find wisdom, moment by moment, day by day, through the guidance of His Holy Spirit, the help of His people, and the comfort of His Word.

Love Freely

Every single “one another” command in the Bible still applies during this time. We are called to encourage one another. Serve one another. Exhort one another. Be generous to one another. Bear one another’s burdens. The list goes on. The pragmatics may look different for a season, but the call to love God and love others freely remains.

Loving your neighbor may mean washing your hands till they’re raw. It may mean risking your own health to serve someone in need. It may mean buying a week’s supply of toilet paper and diapers and wipes instead of a month’s (or more) so that the next person can find what they need. Or it may mean buying an extra pack every time you go out  to give to those who couldn’t find any on the shelves. It can mean countless things depending on your unique situation.

Just like living wisely, loving others will have lots of challenging decisions that must start and end at the feet of Jesus in prayer, trust, and surrender. What we must constantly be asking ourselves as we go about our day is: “Is this action/response rooted in love?”

Let us be careful not to judge one another’s hearts as we navigate through the grey, but let us exhort one another to live to a higher standard in this time of panic, selfishness, fear, and self-preservation: “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend” (John 15:13).

So friends, I beseech you: love freely. And remember that loving freely will always mean sharing the hope that you have in Christ Jesus when hurting, anxious, confused people look to you for answers.

Trust Deeply

After all I’ve been through in the last year, little did I know that this March would bring another life-changing set of events, this time on a global scale. Yet again, I feel like I’m living in another alternate reality. Nothing feels normal. The future is uncertain. I am helpless and powerless. I am weary.

But if there is one thing I have learned in the past year, it is that God can be trusted. He is good, even when the world is falling apart. His promises never fail, even when everything else we thought we could count on does. He is always enough, even if our piggy banks drain empty and our stomachs are left grumbling. He provides, even before we knew what we needed.

God is not surprised by any of this. I don’t know what the outcome will be. Following Jesus doesn’t guarantee protection from illness, economic loss, hunger, hardship, and death.

But I do know God is my protector and my provider. He has already protected me from the bondage of evil and provided for my eternal salvation. What He says He will do. He is good. Nothing can take away the inheritance I have in Christ. The world is sinking sand, but on Christ the solid rock I stand.

Friends, the temptation to rely on ourselves, other people, the government, or something else is ever so strong in situations like these. No individual and no human institution is big enough to solve problems like these. Our world is broken, terminally ill. If it’s not COVID-19, it will be something else. Where can we turn when we are confronted with our finiteness, our humanity, our vulnerability, the reality of this broken world?

To Jesus. Press into Him, and trust deeply. He can handle it. You can’t.

Rejoice Greatly

Finally, dear readers, rejoice! Jesus is King! Jesus is Lord over all! He has risen from the grave victorious over sin and death and sorrow! He will return to consummate His Kingdom for once and for all!

Do not lose heart, but rejoice. Though our outer selves suffer now, our inner selves are being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). We need not be crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, or destroyed, for “we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11).

These next few weeks or months may seem eternal. They will be difficult. But “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). And oh, when that eternal weight of glory is revealed, what a joyous day that will be!

I can’t think of a better way to close this post out than with Paul’s prayer at the end of the book of Philippians:

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved…

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Blessings to you,

Britney Lyn Hamm