One of the strangest consequences of this coronavirus pandemic is our inability to gather for worship on Easter Sunday.
Thomas Boswell recently wrote, “For now, we’re stripped of many of our customary forms of community, connection, enthusiasm and stress-reducing distraction. But we’re also robbed of an often-overlooked element of how humans stay sane and functional.”
Was he talking about Easter worship? He could have been.
But no, he was talking about Opening Day at Nationals Park! As a baseball fan, I agree with him: On a psychological scale, “sports are one of the best deals in town,” in terms of community, connection and enthusiasm. Especially with the Nats being the reigning World Series champions!
But worship is also good for us, which is why so many of us are missing the chance to be together on Easter. At least my congregation, unlike the Nats, can have online worship services for now.
Still, I don’t want to ignore the difficulties that we are facing, personally and as a nation.
The United States has more confirmed cases of covid-19 than any country in the world. Thousands have died and the peak demand for medical services will hit in the next few weeks. This is in spite of our social distancing, which has certainly had a very positive effect.
The problem with social distancing is that it has slowed our economy and caused many people to lose their jobs. Stay-at-home orders have been necessary, and our problems would be much worse if we kept all of our churches, schools and businesses open. But there has been a huge economic cost, one that we will continue to feel.
On this Easter, you might be wondering the same thing that Mary Magdalene wondered outside the empty tomb: Where is Jesus in all this?
My denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), has started an initiative called Matthew 25, which challenges us to “actively engage in the world around us, so our faith comes alive.” Across our denomination, Presbyterians are being challenged “to act boldly and compassionately to serve people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor.” When we do these things, we are considered to be a Matthew 25 church.
This initiative is based on the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, which tells the story of the final judgment. At that time, Jesus will look out over all the nations of the world and will separate people into good sheep and bad goats. He will say to the sheep, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you … for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:34-36).
Then the people who were good sheep will say to him, “Lord, when did we do this for you? We don’t remember ever serving you in these ways.” And Jesus will say, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (v. 40).
This, then, is the key to the Matthew 25 initiative: To serve the neediest members of the family of Jesus. When we do this, we are a Matthew 25 church.
And even more importantly, when we do this, we are able to recognize Jesus.
So, how can we identify Jesus in the world around us, even in the middle of this coronavirus pandemic? He may not be clear at every moment, just as he was not immediately clear to Mary outside the empty tomb. But he is present in the world today, in the power of his resurrection life. He is present in the people who are strangers, who are hungry, who are homeless, and who are sick. Any act of service to them, however small, is an act of service to Jesus.
There is a lot in this time of pandemic that is filling us with fear and anxiety. Such feelings are natural, and it is important that we talk about them, and offer each other a listening ear.
But the crisis is also an opportunity for us to care for each other and the world around us.
When we serve others, we are really serving Jesus. One silver lining of this pandemic is that we are being given chances to recognize Jesus in the faces of people around us.