Holy Week was about three weeks ago so we are definitely on the other side of Easter. In this so-called Eastertide season in the church, it does not feel any different from pre-Easter days. The COVID-19 crisis is still wreaking havoc and not going away as fast as we want. To be honest these days, every week seems like a Holy Week—a week from hell—as we remember Christ’s own descent and live lament. At the same time, we hear of the hell for many seeking unemployment benefits, grieving over the death of a loved one whom they could not touch one last time, and receiving news that they will be furloughed. Even news from universities like Duke are sobering as they put a ‘pause’ on salary increases and some other expenses while other colleges have to permanently lay off staff.
On Maundy Thursday, I spoke with the head chaplain of Duke Hospital and learned about the Duke Hospital chaplains—those frontline pandemic pastors—putting their lives on the line to care for the sick and dying. Later that same evening, because I am on sabbatical, I tuned into the online evening service from Duke Chapel and watched as my dear colleagues wore masks for the first time as they led worship. The image of these ministers with masks made me say with Jeremiah, “my heart is sick” (Jeremiah 8:18). It was as if they were sick patients in a holy hospital, waiting on the Great Physician to touch them even though there was a governmental order for social distancing. Visually, it reminded me again of how the church is indeed a hospital for the sick.
At the end of Holy Week, there was the horror of Good Friday through the silence of Holy Saturday to the glory of Easter Sunday to the other side of Easter. And now here we are on the other side, still carrying the burden of the backside of Easter. I don’t know about you, but it feels pretty much as it has been. Yet I’m reminded that Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, doesn’t erase our pain or trouble, just as the wounds of the crucifixion on Jesus’ body are not erased by the resurrection. This is the Christian Easter life—a mix of the gory and glory, of sorrow and joy, a sorrowful joy, even as we live into the future God has for us. We live the resurrection by carrying a cross. This is life—COVID-19 or not—on the other side of Easter.
A few weeks into Eastertide, there is still sorrow and there is still joy. Even in the gospel accounts of the resurrection, after the resurrection, on the other side of Easter, some of the followers of Jesus experience fear, doubt, confusion, sadness, uncertainty, and more. Some weep in the face of resurrection, even as global human tears have flowed during this pandemic. But some disciples are amazed. Some do worship. Some experience joy too, but it’s amid sorrow and fear and other emotions. There’s a full range of responses to that first Easter and that breadth of responses is not erased, so we are in good company with the saints, regardless of where we may be right now in our own lives.
During this pandemic, I know there have been days when you’ve been down and days when you’ve been up, days full of hope for the future, and then other times when your cup of hope has felt empty. I’ve been there and this is real life. But I want to encourage you to embrace the wide spectrum of what it means to be on the other side of Easter. You don’t have to be a super human or a super Christian. Just be human, a beloved child of God. Just be.
On the other side of this Easter, even if we don’t expect Jesus or recognize him, as it was with his followers post-resurrection, Jesus shows up anyway in our lives and in our work. As Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry preached on Easter, “Easter comes anyway” regardless of our reactions or circumstances. Christ’s presence isn’t dependent on our belief or disbelief, our fear or joy. His presence is dependent on his promise to never leave us nor forsake us and to be with us till the very end (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5). Easter is a sign of this promise for us all. A new hymn composition, "Christ Still Rises," by Ben Brody and David Bjorlin, speaks to our reality:
Christ still rises when fear grips our city,
when death takes no pity,
when much is unknown.
Christ still rises when friends are divided,
when joy feels misguided,
when we are alone.
Christ still rises when churches are shuttered
when praises are muttered
when prayers go unsaid.
Christ still rises when peace has all faded.
when we are most jaded,
when faith turns to dread,
when faith turns to dread.
Christ still rises, Easter has come—COVID-19 or not—and I’m grateful to God that we are not alone. Christ still rises. God is with us as we walk or Zoom this uncertain road with our full range of human responses.
On the other side of Easter, we may not always sense a resurrection reality, but something new is being born in us, through us, and around us, even as we wait for what is to come. May we have the faith to see it and possess the strength and courage to embrace it.
--Luke A. Powery is the Dean of Duke University Chapel and Associate Professor of Homiletics at Duke Divinity School. His most recent book is Were You There? Lenten Reflections on the Spirituals and he also serves as a general editor of the nine-volume lectionary commentary series for preaching and worship titled Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship.