“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:3-6

The apostle Paul wrote these words from prison around the year 60. While physically separated from his Christian brothers and sisters, he nevertheless found a way to maintain a close spiritual connection with these friends in Philippi. As the calendar turns to April, I’m finding Paul’s words from prison particularly poignant this year.

It’s hard to imagine that we might not be able to gather in our Sanctuary to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. So many of you have said the same to me in phone calls, texts, and emails over the past few weeks. We may not be languishing in prison as Paul was, but we certainly understand better now than we used to what it’s like to be separated from our Christian community. The prospect of welcoming the risen Christ from a safe social distance makes that separation seem even more stark.

So, what shall we do? What can we learn from Paul here in Philippians? I detect three specific invitations in these verses: To gratitude, to joy, and to hope. Paul is actively practicing all three of these Christian virtues while in prison. Could we do likewise? If so, how? We’ve got some time between now and Easter. Let’s put it to good use finding ways to make gratitude, joy, and hope part of our daily routines while we are separated from one another. Be intentional about it.

Ask yourself: “What will I do to cultivate gratitude (or joy, or hope) in my life today?”—and then do it. I can think of no better way to prepare our souls for Easter this year. Grateful, joyful, and hopeful Christians always find it easier to recognize the risen Christ when he shows up in unexpected places. Even—and this year, especially—at a distance.