In the wake of a global pandemic, millions of Americans have been thrust into a storm-tossed world of trauma, uncertainty, and hopelessness. For many, life before the pandemic seems both like one year ago and five years ago. Even for those who profess the Christian message of resurrection hope, days and weeks have dragged on, leading to despair and hopelessness. While we lament the ongoing deaths of Covid-19 in the world at large, we must not forget that Covid-19 has also taken another drastic toll on American life: our mental well-being. In 2019, 11% of American adults reported struggling with some form of depression and/or anxiety; that figure jumped to an alarming rate of 41% in 2021. For young adults (ages 18-24), the figures are evening more staggering: 56% of young adults have struggled with either depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or suicidal ideation. When two weeks of shutdowns turns into months, and months into quarters, and quarters into a whole year—what do we need most this Easter season?
Theology in the Abstract
Many Pastors may be tempted to preach on the hope of the resurrection in such a way to deal with the diminishing hope that is present in our world. We could preach that the resurrection is the ultimate source of hope and healing for a world gone awry. Because Christ has conquered the grave, he too can conquer even the darkest days of hopelessness in the midst of a pandemic. While all these statements are true, at times, these messages echo the hollow proclamations of secular societies that proclaim, “Andrà tutto bene” (Everything is gonna be fine). We don’t need theology in the abstract—messages of an ethereal and theoretical resurrection. We need a living, breathing, vital hope—Jesus Christ, the Resurrected One. What we need is not merely the hope of resurrection, but the person of Jesus who is risen (remember the old Easter maxim: He is risen! He is risen indeed!).
Many times, in Christian circles, we have a tendency to speak of the resurrection as if it has no connection to our present lives. The resurrection provides the downpayment by which God will right every wrong, gives us hope that Jesus has conquered death, and provides a way for us to see glory even in the midst of pain. Again, all well and true, but still very distance from our day-to-day lives; and more importantly, distant from Jesus, the One in whom resurrection actually flows through. We don’t need a Christianized version of “we will get through this,” rather, we need to find our hope in the one person outside of us that can provide real, substantial hope to our broken world.
In other words, more than simply, “the resurrection is true,” we need, more than ever, “Jesus is alive.” Jesus is alive even now, ruling and reigning over every square inch of the cosmos. Jesus is alive right now, governing and sustaining the smallest molecule to the largest galaxy. Jesus is alive right now in his gathered church, proclaiming the good news through Word, deed, and sacrament. Too many times our message of hope in the resurrection is nothing more than a spiritualized version of Bob Marley, “Don’t worry. Be Happy.”
The New Testament knows nothing of an impersonal resurrection with an abstract hope—it knows the resurrected and conquering Savior who says, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev 1:17-18).” Again, our hope is not in an idea of resurrection but in the One in who actually resurrected. What a world starved for hope needs is not platitudes and cliches about the unpredictable possibility of hope (i.e. we will get through this) but a deep and abiding trust in Jesus who actually gives us his promise that one day he will return to renew, restore, and redeem all things. In this Easter season, anchor your lives to the resurrected Christ, not simply the hope of resurrection.