Jentezen Franklin: Coronavirus leaves churches empty, but we remember Easter’s timeless message of hope

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It’s safe to say I haven’t experienced anything like the coronavirus in my lifetime. I never imagined celebrating Holy Week at home with only my immediate family.

This virus is disruptive. I miss gathering with groups of close friends and with the entire, dedicated congregation of Free Chapel where I serve as pastor. I wept during our Livestream on Palm Sunday when it finally hit me how much I truly miss gathering together for worship. I’ll never take it for granted again!

But at this unique moment in our lives, it’s important to remember that the Easter message, the story of death and resurrection, is still a timeless message of hope.


God is still with us. He hasn't forsaken us. He is still in control.

When we face giants and obstacles — some familiar, and some completely unthinkable — it may seem dark and dry for a season. But we have to remember it’s only a season. The Psalmist tells us, “Weeping endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

There's certainly a lot of sadness surrounding the narrative of this year’s Easter season. I’ve also been asked frequently what it’s like to shepherd a flock from a distance in these strange times.


First off, I don’t want to diminish what we’re grieving today. We all look forward with great anticipation of singing praises to our Savior as one unified body and celebrating the resurrection with our church family.

What’s more, our celebrations afterward will look different this year, with many having to forgo traditions of extended family and friends gathering together for an Easter dinner.

There is indeed a deep yearning and a hunger to come back together.

At the same time, there is still much to celebrate despite this disruption. We're seeing record numbers tuning in to our online services. This crisis has brought many to their knees, looking for answers, looking for hope. Perhaps many wouldn’t have lifted their gaze toward heaven if their world wasn’t shaken like it is now.

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But the best part of all? The church, the Body of Christ, is looking more and more like the church was intended as the days roll by. We're acting as first responders in this crisis throughout our communities.

At Free Chapel, we’ve served tens of thousands of meals to those hurt financially by this pandemic. We’ve called to check in on over 20,000 seniors in our neighborhoods and ensure they’re healthy and they have what they need.

We're behaving like the church is supposed to in a time of crisis. We’re still a light in the darkness. So in that sense, nothing’s actually changed at all. If anything, we’re more like a church than we ever have been.

God is still with us. He hasn't forsaken us. He is still in control.

This situation has also given the American church a taste of what church is like in China, or Iran, and other places hostile to Christianity. These are places where Christians can’t gather publicly, and freely. Yet the church in these countries — meeting in small, secret home gatherings — thrives in such an environment. Because despite the physical limitations, the Spirit cannot be quenched.

The church is, was, and always will be more than a building.

If your act of worship is dependent on church going back to the way it was, you’re in trouble. If the only worship and prayer we engage in is within the four walls of a church building, then we’re in trouble. Perhaps this situation we face today is a test, and Christ is calling on us to feed our faith in our own homes.

I love the illustration from Leviticus Chapter 23, where we’re told a priest would enter the temple with a weeping willow branch in one hand and a palm branch in another. One represents weeping and sorrow, while the other represents triumph and victory.

In both cases, we are to come and enter God’s presence. God is a god in both rejoicing and in sorrow. He is God when we’re on the mountain top, and he is still God when we are in the valley.

The church building may empty, and that’s certainly something to grieve. But don’t be fooled. The church is alive and well.

And you know what else is empty? The tomb! If we truly believe that, then this is no time to fear.


The grave at one point was devastating and discouraging to followers of Christ. But that was only for a season. Jesus' resurrection proved we don’t even need to fear death itself.

I’m so thrilled with how the church has responded thus far in great compassion and acts of service over the past several weeks. I know that with the joy of the Lord as our strength, we’ll be able to conquer any obstacles that come our way.