Tomorrow is Easter. For Christians, it’s our most important and holy and joyful day of the year–a day we go to sunrise services, special Easter worship services, multigenerational family dinners with special foods like ambrosia and asparagus. We celebrate together! But this year we’re under mandatory “Shelter in Place” orders, so we will worship from home via apps and computers. We will have dinner with only our usual housemates. We still rejoice in Jesus’ resurrection, in His conquering of death and hell–making a way for all who will trust and follow Him to spend eternal life in Heaven with Him. It still feels like an important day–but it doesn’t feel like a holiday. Our spiritual rejoicing has a shadow of loneliness and loss. People are genuinely and justifiably grieving over so many losses in this crazy time, and this is one more.
These are my thoughts this Easter Eve morning, written in an email exchange with a friend.
Lately, I have been thinking about believers in prison. The apostle Paul, of course, but – as many might expect of me – also the many thousands or more who have been in POW camps, concentration camps, imprisoned for their faith in Islamic countries, criminals who come to – or back to- Jesus in prison. This has made me think, too, about those who are bedridden and home-bound due to health issues. Those in concentration camps tapped messages of encouragement in code on the prison pipes. They sang snatches of hymns to give each other hope. With eyes straight ahead, they muttered words of hope and snippets of Scripture when no guard was looking. They wrote letters and smuggled them out. They did this to strengthen each other, to build community, fellowship, in spite of knowing that getting caught would mean beatings or death. They were “being the Church.”
I have also thought of my husband Dale, of him telling how his brother spent days trying to find and reach him in Vietnam. Chuck was a Navy hard-hat diver on a ship off the coast of Vietnam and, also on board, was “Chief Jackson,” a powerful, Holy-Spirit-filled, zealous believer who ran Bible studies and prayer meetings on deck for these men who faced death at any moment. Chuck had been mightily saved through him, and was being mentored, discipled; in the subsequent fifty years, he has never looked back. His favorite song was “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, No Turning Back… though none go with me, still I will follow…” Then his little brother Dale arrived in Vietnam as a combat helicopter pilot with a high chance of not getting back alive, and Chuck had to find him to be sure he, too, would choose to trust and follow Jesus – before it was too late. Their deployments overlapped by only a month, so Chuck got a few days of leave and hitchhiked, did whatever he could, to find Dale, but, as a pilot, Dale was always on the move and Chuck was running out of time, chasing him from base to landing zone. He realized he could check just one more place, then had to get back, or he would end up AWOL. He walked up to HQ and was told, “I’m sorry, Dale just took off on a mission.” Heart-sick, Chuck walked out the doors and saw Dale walking up the same sidewalk; his mission had been scrubbed. They spent the rest of the day sitting on a hillside, with Chuck giving Dale an urgent, literal, “Come to Jesus” talk. Dale, like Chuck, had been ripe fruit, and he was quick to respond, so they prayed together, confessed sin, praised, had the sweet fellowship of brothers who were now also brothers in Christ. Chuck instructed him in the basics of the faith and how to grow deep and strong in his new life. Then Chuck had to leave. Talk about a crash course! Dale never looked back, either. Not once has either Chuck or Dale wavered. Unlike Chuck, Dale never saw another believer until he got back home. He spent eleven months in “spiritual isolation.” Dale had a pocket Bible that he devoured, and he and Chuck wrote letters, but that was all. Dale always said how God created us to be in community, but you’d better be ready to stand alone if necessary. God works there, too.
Isolation happens. It tests our faith. It purifies and sorts and shrinks and prunes and winnows the church — but it only shrinks the visible church, not the Invisible Church. It is a comfort and brings hope to realize that true believers -all over the world!- are meeting by zoom, facetime, YouTube, conference calls. Small growth groups, Bible studies, megachurches, and secret house churches, friends – worldwide the Church is isolating, (except in Sweden!) They are holding on to each other, encouraging each other, singing together via phone in huddles of 1, 2, 5, but in reality with 30 or 300 or 1000, all watching the same streamed service “in different places together,” all singing the same song from couches and breakfast tables. What a gift to have zoom, and texts, and Marco Polo, and landline phones held up to computers to connect! This, too, shall pass.
One of my sweetest, most powerful memories was on a trip to Europe. Our 1st stop was Naples, but we ended up with a day-and-a-half layover in London, landing at 6 a.m. Easter Sunday. We hopped on the tube and bee-lined for Westminister Cathedral. We’d been flying since the prior morning and had on travel clothes and backpacks. The man at the door gently told us it was not a tourist time, but if we wanted to worship with them, we were very welcome, but the church was full, so we would have to stand. We found a bit of wall, and spent an hour worshipping in an ancient church, singing centuries-old hymns, hearing the story of the ages, with people of all ages, classes, nationalities. I was so moved. I looked around and realized I was being given a gift, a glimpse of The Church, Universal, Triumphant, Eternal. It made me cry, of course, but that memory, that portal to Heaven opening for just a glimpse, surely will be one of my last memories when my mind fails me.
It will be okay; we will be okay. If this lasts another month or a year, we will worship with each other, confess our sins and needs to each other, pray for and with each other, check in on each other, encourage each other, reminding each other of God’s past faithfulness, and His assurance, His promises, that He is still in control, He is still strong, loving, steadfast, a good, good Father. That’s who He is, was, and will be.
So, this is what I’ve been thinking about, for what it’s worth. I am affected, certainly, by all the “holocaust and suffering” memoirs I read, but I’m grateful. Our world has changed, but God has not. He is up to something here! The Potter’s wheel is spinning!
And I’m thankful to be “with” each of you as we spin!