While some churches defied government orders to gather for Easter on Sunday, Rick Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, says the coronavirus pandemic prevented millions of churches around the world from physically gathering for Easter Sunday for the first time in 2,000 years.
“Because of the worldwide COVID-19 virus pandemic, millions of local churches are going to be unable to meet together this Easter. Now this has never happened in 2000 years,” Warren said in a recorded message that was shared with followers of his megachurch online on Sunday ahead of his Easter sermon.
Warren told the Orange County Register that he had planned a sermon for Easter Sunday called “Time to Dream,” in celebration of the first 40 years of his church as well as its future but had to go produce a different message for his congregants after the pandemic began to unfold. The new message was called “Expecting a Resurrection When Life Falls Apart.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Warren told the OC Register on Good Friday about the virus. “9/11, Katrina, things come and go. This is different.”
Warren explained that along with the rest of the world, many people of faith were having their lives disrupted by the impact of the coronavirus and they are anxious too.
“The past weeks I’ve received literally thousands of emails, texts, and calls from people distressed by the way this world has been turned upside down,” he said before reading a letter from a woman describing her struggles.
Using the story of Christ’s resurrection, however, Warren made the case that living a life of faith through Christ can help people get through the pandemic.
“Jesus’ resurrection proved that He really was who He claimed to be, it validated His identity. A lot of people in history have claimed to be God. Lots of people have claimed to be God but only one proved it by bringing Himself back to life … it’s why 2.3 billion Christians are celebrating Easter this week,” he said.
The resurrection story, he said, is Jesus’ model for what people should do when life falls apart. He explained that it is natural to experience anxiety or despondency when going through a crisis, but taking advantage of the power of God that comes through Christ gives people the ability to overcome challenges.
“The people whose lives had fallen apart when Christ was crucified and then when they saw Him being raised from the dead, they went from being cowardly to being courageous. They went from being fearful to fearless. They went from being gloomy to being glad, from being hopeless to being hopeful and happy. They went from being powerless to being powerful, from being upset to being unstoppable and Christianity spread through the whole world,” he said.
It was “seeing the risen Jesus Christ come back from the dead,” he said, that caused the transformation.
“That quickly changed their lives, then millions of lives and then billions of lives.”
The California pastor noted that people will repeatedly go through periods of fear and pain, confusion and grief, and freedom and joy just as Jesus' disciples did between the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
“Many people are afraid because of this COVID-19 virus and many are in pain because of this COVID-19 virus. When you are in the day of fear and pain, you need to do two things. You do the two things that Jesus did,” he said.
He then noted how Jesus reached out to friends ahead of His crucifixion and He also prayed.
“Draw close to friends. Before Jesus was betrayed, arrested and tortured, the very last thing He did was spend some time intimately with His friends,” Warren said.
The pastor encouraged people to reach out to God in prayer.
He also urged, "Rely on the power of Jesus."
"You can't do this on your own power. ... Willpower is not enough," he stressed. "It takes more than self help, … than positive thinking. I’m in favor of positive thinking; it’s better than negative thinking but it only works on stuff you can control. What about the stuff you can’t control? You can’t resurrect yourself. You need a savior. God has to do it for you. And that’s called salvation."