One stride from the hereafter. That’s where I found myself on Sunday afternoon, the first day of Holy Week.
Out for some fresh air during the COVID-19 quarantine, I had completed half of a long run when a speeding car barreled through a red light and missed me by inches. Had I entered the intersection a fraction of a second sooner, I would likely have stepped into eternity before reaching the other side of the street.
For the rest of my shaky run, I thought a lot more about life and death than I have during any of the other 54 Holy Weeks I’ve lived through.
COVID-19 is forcing all of us to seriously contemplate life’s meaning and what happens at its end. Eternity seems much closer when the whole world is living under the threat of a deadly pandemic.
The Reality of Suffering
This new focus on life and death is especially intense for the rising generation. As an author and president of a non-profit organization, I help tens of thousands of young people find life’s meaning and develop as leaders.
For many of my students, the thought of death incites rage. A millennial friend posted last week about the “unacceptably high” number of COVID-19 deaths and seethed, “At this rate you will personally know two or three people who died.”
Subconsciously, most of us understand that no one gets out of this life alive. Yet the possibility that we and those we love could die isolated and alone in an ICU bed seems horribly unfair.
The reality of suffering reveals the logic of the belief system undergirding Holy Week. We know things are not as they ought to be because we have in our hearts a sense of “oughtness.” To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we know when a line is crooked because we have a clear sense of what a straight line is.
Always With Us
This week nearly two and a half billion people will celebrate Jesus as that straight line, the one whose suffering and death and resurrection gives meaning to everything else. On that Roman cross Jesus destroyed death itself, depriving it of its power to steal what is most important about us.
To some, belief in an afterlife is dangerous. In fact, a March 28 New York Times editorial laid the blame for COVID-19 at the feet of evangelicals, leaving the impression that Christianity inspires a carelessness about life that hurts and kills people.
The way many believers use Scripture underscores this concern. They cite passages such as 2 Cor. 5:8, which says that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” as promoting a nonchalant attitude toward life. “Who cares if I die? I’ll be with Jesus!”
But the whole point of Holy Week is that Jesus isn’t just “up there.” His presence is here. “I will be with you always,” Jesus said (Matt. 28:20).
Each Day is a Gift
Heaven is great, but the Bible doesn’t teach Christians to have a death wish. It teaches them to care deeply about life because each day is a gift, an opportunity to experience the power of Christ’s resurrection and bring good to others.
On that third day, Jesus showed that there is a power much greater than fear of death: a life of meaning. Living fruitful, thriving lives is an enormously important part of what Jesus taught us to do.
It is this love of life, not of death, that causes Christians all over the world stand up this week and declare: We will not live in fear. As Jesus said, “The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come that you might have life — life in all its fullness” (John 10:10, GNT).
We may be apart more than we’d like during this celebration of Easter. But the timing could not be better for anxiety about death to give way to a celebration of life.