The U.S. Surgeon General predicted this would be the hardest and saddest week we have faced since COVID-19 reached our shores.
At the beginning of this week, the death toll surpassed 10,000 and continued to climb. Every death has a story, a life with family and friends suddenly snuffed out in a matter of days.
In Florida, a couple who had been married 51 years and were in good health contracted the coronavirus. Within three weeks, the husband and wife died within six minutes of each other. In Colorado, a 41-year-old sheriff’s deputy contracted the virus. He died from the coronavirus April 1.
In 1997, I attended a conference in Boston and stayed at the historic Omni Parker House Hotel. With a bit of free time on my hands, I ventured outside, crossed Tremont Street and wandered into the Granary Burial Grounds, the third oldest cemetery in Boston, established in 1660. Some of America’s founding fathers are buried here: Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and five victims of the Boston massacre along with Benjamin Franklin’s parents.
As I wandered among the grave markers, I was struck by the contrast. Those gravestones that were erected in the late 1600s bore images of skulls and crossbones. They appeared stark and painful. But in the early 1700s, something changed. The images were replaced with angels and cherubim along with Scripture quotations. They radiated hope and expectations for heaven.
I wondered what happened to cause the change. Why were those buried in the late 1600s interred beneath morbid markers while those who died in the 1730s and later had gravestones symbolizing hope of heaven? The only explanation seemed to be the Great Awakening.
The Great Awakening took wings in the 1730s on the preaching of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism, and George Whitefield, whose sermons were widely published by his friend Benjamin Franklin. The Great Awakening changed the spiritual fabric of the colonies and transformed the way people viewed death. Death released its grim grip of despair and was replaced by the hope of heaven through faith in Jesus Christ.
It is more than interesting, perhaps providential, that our generation is engaged in its greatest struggle with death at the precise moment when the world remembers the resurrection.
But this Easter will be different. Churches will be empty. Perhaps our vacant churches will serve as a powerful reminder of another empty room where the body of Jesus was entombed 2,000 years ago.
“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. ... O death where is our victory? O death where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 55-57).
The churches may be empty but the message prevails, and Jesus’ resurrection will be proclaimed more widely this Easter than ever.
An Easter gift: Tinsley’s new book, “Upon This Rock” FREE as an e-book on Amazon April 8-12.