Before the outbreak of COVID-19, most churches had special services planned for Easter. Easter Sunday is the most attended church event out of all 52 weeks. Many churches use it as an outreach for people who only bring their families for Easter services. Bigger churches put on Easter plays and some have full production teams. The resurrection of Jesus is definitely worth celebrating!
This year has certainly changed things dramatically. LifeWay Research in Nashville did a recent survey among pastors in the US and, at the time of the survey, they found that 47% of churches will be closed on Easter. Only 3% said they will have in-person gatherings no matter what, and many said they will wait and see what the recommendations are at Easter time. A lot of churches are worried about funds, as the economy has slowed and many people have lost jobs. As Christians, we are all forced to rethink both how we do church and how we are the church.
The best place to look is to Jesus Christ. His resurrection did not have fanfare. While there was an earthquake, Jesus did not seek out big crowds. He could have walked the streets of Jerusalem, proclaiming victory over death. He could have walked to the Temple and announced that he was risen. Much like our Easter of today, Jerusalem was swarming with people who traveled for the Passover. Thousands would have heard of Jesus’ death. Jerusalem was primed for a huge resurrection Sunday appearance by the king of the Jews.
Instead of a large gathering, Jesus left the tomb and didn’t appear to anyone until later that day: “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (Luke 24:1-3 ESV). The women found two angels and were told to tell the disciples. Peter and John went to the tomb to see with their own eyes and found it empty, exactly as the women had reported. For an entire day, the disciples marveled at the risen Christ but still had not seen him until evening.
Jesus instead walked with two people on the road to Emmaus, a village that rested seven miles from Jerusalem. They didn’t know that it was Jesus until he revealed himself in the breaking of bread: “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). The two men ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples, and that’s when Jesus showed himself to the eleven disciples for the first time.
Jesus chose to only reveal himself to a few people. Over and over again, Jesus is revealed to small groups. Yet the gospel spread very quickly. The great news about the resurrection is that we don’t need huge church gatherings for Jesus to continue to reveal himself. He works through small groups, and in unconventional ways. The word of God is powerful and effective, and will continue to bring salvation to many!!
Photo used with permission under Creative Commons.