A church fills its empty pews with pictures of its members: How the joy of Easter Sunday can change the world on Monday

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A church fills its empty pews with pictures of its members: How the joy of Easter Sunday can change the world on Monday

April 13, 2020 -

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of The United Kingdom

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of The United Kingdom

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of The United Kingdom

A church in Florida appeared to be full yesterday, but this is because members of the congregation emailed photos of themselves to the staff, who then printed the images and taped them to the backs of seats in the sanctuary.

Welcome to Easter Sunday 2020. 

A church in South Carolina had Easter services in their parking lot as members watched on large outdoor screens while listening to the broadcast over local radio. A youth pastor in Arlington, Texas, created an Easter egg hunt for children using the online video game Minecraft, a strategy which gained national attention. 

A church in North Carolina has held a sunrise Easter service for 250 years, even through the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and two World Wars. But for the pandemic, the celebration was replaced by an online service. 

Archbishop José Horacio Gómez of the Los Angeles diocese was right: “Our churches may be closed but Christ is not quarantined and his Gospel is not in chains.” 

Boris Johnson is home from the hospital 

Now it’s the Monday after Easter. What difference did yesterday make today? 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was released from the hospital Sunday morning to continue his recovery from COVID-19 at home. In a video tribute, he thanked healthcare workers who “saved my life, no question.” Scientists are trying to determine whether patients such as the prime minister now have an acquired immunity that protects them from reinfection or at least lessens the severity of future infections. 

If so, doctors who recover from COVID-19 could care for coronavirus patients in the place of those who are still at risk. The same could be true for grocery workers, delivery drivers, and anyone else performing an essential service at the risk of infecting themselves (and then their families). 

Let’s consider this possibility as a post-Easter parable. 

The practical path to happiness 

I have long been grateful for the work of Arthur C. Brooks, the former president of the American Enterprise Institute and now faculty member at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School. A committed Christian, he is one of the most thoughtful interpreters of culture today. His keynote address at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast was just one example of his practical wisdom. 

His latest article in the Atlantic is no exception. Writing on happiness in a pandemic, he cites substantive research from a class he teaches on the subject at Harvard Business School. 

Brooks concludes that “substantive well-being” (a more academic description of “happiness”) is the product of genes, circumstances, and habits. Habits are made up of faith, family, friends, and work. And satisfaction is produced by wanting what we have more than having what we want, by being content with our present circumstances more than seeking constantly to achieve and own more. 

Here’s the reason I’m writing about Brooks’s article: while he is a strong Christian, his article utilizes secular research and is aimed at a secular audience. As a result, he states that “faith doesn’t mean any faith in particular. I practice the Catholic faith and am happy to recommend it to anyone, but the research is clear that many different faiths and secular life philosophies can provide this happiness edge. The key is to find a structure through which you can ponder life’s deeper questions and transcend a focus on your narrow self-interests to serve others” (his italics). 

Brooks is writing to discuss happiness as something we can strive to achieve. But the good news is that Christians can do better. Much better, in fact. 

Don’t live in Good Friday 

Happiness (from happy, a Middle English term for “lucky”) is based on happenings, whether they are genetic, circumstantial, or habitual. Joy translates the Greek chara, which describes a deep delight transcending circumstance. It is produced by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and can be experienced by any Christian at any time. 

For example, Paul could sing hymns at midnight in a Philippian jail (Acts 16:25) and later encourage the Philippian believers to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). 

Here’s my point: Christians can have joy in a fallen world because the risen Christ is risen in us. 

The best-known verse in the Bible declares, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, my italics). In the moment we make Christ our Lord, we have eternal life. Not just when we die—right now. 

So, don’t settle for man-made happiness when you can have divine joy. Don’t live in Good Friday when it is Easter Sunday. 

If Easter is only a day on a calendar, the celebration replaces the event. Because Jesus rose from the dead, if he is your Lord, his Spirit lives in you today (Romans 8:9) and you have risen from the dead to declare the good news of eternal life to our dying world. 

A wise word from a dear friend 

I received the news over the weekend that the mother of a dear friend had died. I wrote to my friend to express my condolences and promise of intercession. He wrote back, “It will be a great Easter celebration knowing mom is with our Lord.” Then he signed his note, “Romans 15:13.” 

Here’s what the verse says: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” 

Let’s make Paul’s prayer our own. Let’s ask the risen Lord to fill us with “all joy and peace in believing.” If we do, “by the power of the Holy Spirit” we will “abound in hope” and share our hope with a hopeless world. 

And every day will be Easter.

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