What hope do we have during this season of upheaval and uncertainty? Where is peace found when our normal sources of security – family, friends, money, jobs – are up in the air? The coffee shop barista who has lost a job, the high school senior who will miss prom, the restaurateur who is now considering bankruptcy – where can they find hope in the midst of their loss? 

Coronavirus has made one thing obvious: hope and peace cannot be found in things that, to use the words of Jesus, “moth and rust destroy” and “thieves break in and steal.” To use more updated terms, things that Coronavirus can infect and affect. So then, to where or to whom do we go for hope? Jesus offers us a hope that is utterly immune to Coronavirus and that will outlast the collapse of civilization: his resurrection. With Easter Sunday being less than two weeks away, this is an especially appropriate time to reflect on this hope and how it applies to our current predicament.

Before Good Friday was Good

Before the resurrection occurred, the cross was everything but victorious. Friday was everything but Good Friday. What hopelessness must have been in the hearts of the two women as they watched the limp body of Jesus laid in the tomb! What panic must have peaked in the disciples as the stone was rolled in front of the tomb! They had placed every last ounce of hope in Christ and the kingdom that he promised to establish. They had entered into Jerusalem just five days ago with their heads held high as their Master was praised with palm branches as King. And now those same heads wagged with shame and grief over the complete humiliation of that King.

It is probably not too difficult for you to empathize with the overwhelming emotions of the disciples as you see COVID-19 threaten your security and take away things that are precious to you. The disciples had just witnessed the greatest tragedy in all of history. Of course they are panicking! Of course they’ve fallen into a black grief! Could there be anything worse than people putting to death God’s Beloved who came to save them? Creatures putting to death their own Creator?

The Dawn of Hope

But let’s continue to track with their emotions as hope enters into the Story. The Sunday morning after Jesus died, in the midst of their panic and grief, Mary Magdalene and her friends went to visit the tomb. And we know they didn’t have a clue what news awaited them there, because they were discussing on the way how they were going to get the tomb’s stone rolled out of the way so they could see his body and mourn.

When they got to the tomb, an angel delivered the news to the mourning women: “He has risen!” “What? No, there’s no way. Can’t be…can it?” A bewildered hope entered their hearts that perhaps Friday was not the end of the Story. A wild faith emerged that looked beyond the limp Body taken down from the Cross to the power and faithfulness of God. Matthew calls this mixture of emotion, “fear and great joy,” Mark calls it “trembling and astonishment.” However you describe it, Jesus’ disciples were blindsided by the hope of the resurrection. Akin to their Old Testament ancestors, they found the answer to the question, “Is anything too wonderful for God?”

But perhaps the most fearful, joyful news of that Sunday morning was that the cross of Friday was, after all, a good thing. The very thing that caused such grief was now a cause of joy. The very thing that had humiliated their King now exalted him. For his death was not the end of his kingdom, but its inauguration. Apart from the resurrection, Jesus was just another martyred prophet. But his resurrection declared his sacrifice an acceptable payment for the sins of his people. What a fearful, joyful thing that our God can take news as terrible as the crucifixion of the Son of God and turn it into the Good News that we know it to be today. This is why the cross has for so long been the defining symbol of Christianity.

The resurrection also serves, in this sense, as the basis of Christian hope in suffering. For if even the death of God’s Son can be made into such good news, what sorrow of ours will not undergo the same transformation? Let us not doubt God’s power and promise to apply the resurrection to our own sufferings, sooner or later. As CS Lewis once said, let us not say of a certain sorrow that no future bliss can make up for it, forgetting that heaven works backwards: God does not only promise to make up for our suffering with a consolation prize, but promises to transform our agonies into glories, just as he did the tragedy of the Cross. Christ, in his resurrected body, is the Living Hope that all who believe in him will share in the blessings of his resurrection. Some of those blessings we receive now (the “down payment”) and some we’ll receive in the age to come.

And as you consider your present circumstances, here in the midst of COVID-19, can you look beyond the limp body of our nation’s economy to the faithfulness of God? Can you see a future beyond the crucifixion of your career, a future that rests in the hands of a King who loves you enough to take a bullet for you? As you suffer, will you do so in hope, believing that whatever agonies await you in the next month can and will be transformed by the same God who transformed the agony of Jesus?

Suffering and Hope Go Hand in Hand

Now, that does not mean we are called to be stoics who do not feel any pain – not at all. Jesus himself was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” when sickness took the life of his friend Lazarus. And as Lazarus’ friends and family mourned their loss, Jesus himself wept over his world that had been infected by death. 

What’s happened in China, Spain and Italy is awful. What’s unfolding now and in the next few weeks in the United States is very real and scary. In the past two weeks, I’ve talked with pastors who wept over the devastation of their flock, 12th graders who won’t walk at graduation, bosses overwhelmed at having to lay off half their employees, moms floundering to teach their children at home. My own (very social) child burst into tears at the thought of weeks (months?) without seeing his friends. Wherever you are in this mix, however you are suffering, take a moment and imagine with me the face of Jesus as he wept over the death of Lazarus. How does that face look to you? Did his eyes simply get moist or did the tears flow freely? Did he cry quietly to himself or sob aloud? Did he hide his face or did he let everyone see the pain on it, and see the heaving of his chest? Whatever it looked like, it was striking enough that the bystanders looked at him and said, “See how he loved him!” It was obvious to them that Jesus must have cared very deeply for Lazarus and his two sisters to have wept in that way. Do you know that in the same way he wept over the loss of Lazarus, he weeps with you, believer, over your losses? And the implication of his tears are the same for you as well: “See how he loves us!”

But for the sake of hope, we must remember the rest of Lazarus’ story. Jesus wept knowing that five minutes later, Lazarus would be alive and well again, resurrected from the dead. In other words, hope and suffering were not contradictory for Jesus, but could both be in his heart at the same time. Surely we, too, are allowed to grieve, to be deeply moved, to weep over suffering. And just as it was with Jesus, rather than deep distress and grief forcing hope out of our hearts, such suffering can go hand in hand with hope. 

COVID-19 can infect our bodies. It can collapse the economy. It can disrupt our way of life. But it cannot infect our hope if it’s in Christ, who overcame the world; in Christ, who lovingly died for us; in Christ, who resurrected from the dead. For our fate is already secured, being wrapped up and joined to his fate. So take heart, you who are in Christ, you have a hope that is immune to all suffering, even the Coronavirus.