This isn’t what I had in mind.
This is my first Holy Week with the church and what is happening now wasn’t even remotely what I thought would happen. All the planning, times to be together, messages to be given to groups of people (in person), these and other ideas have been tossed aside in deference to the COVID-19 virus.
It’s a humbling situation for not only myself but also a number of my pastor colleagues. Easter Sunday in particular is like the Super Bowl for us, a time of celebration and bringing people together to proclaim the resurrection of Christ. Not to mention all those “Easter Lily” folks who come once a year wondering why every time they come, there are flowers in the sanctuary.
I’ve been trying really hard to watch my language these last few weeks, but not in the way it sounds. I cringe whenever I hear someone say that “the church is closed.” Of course, I know what that means (I think); it means that the church isn’t holding regular worship and gathering events. Some folks associate the meeting together moments in a building to be “going to church” and when that doesn’t happen, then the church is “closed.”
Another thing I’ve been hearing is that there is a danger of Easter being “canceled” because folks aren’t meeting in the church house. The reasoning is that because we can’t meet together, then Easter doesn’t happen. To be sure, there’s a lot of disappointment related to this realization. But, does this mean that Easter is canceled?
Thank goodness for technology–at least we’re able to stay connected that way. Still, it doesn’t substitute for meeting in person nor does it help people who aren’t technologically savvy enough to have a laptop or smart phone and follow the livestream events. It’s not a perfect situation, no matter much I try to keep the church connected.
I don’t know if we will ever get back to “normal” whatever that means. But, I do think this is a good time to get our theology lined up to what is truly important about life and also what “being the church” means.
On Easter Sunday, we will miss out on seeing all the new dresses, suits, and ties that were bought just for the occasion. We won’t be doing egg hunts, at least not in large groups, and we won’t see packed church houses with folks wondering ‘why can’t it always be like this?’ There won’t be the beautiful music with the choirs or praise team either. There will be any number of losses related to this moment. For me personally, I won’t have the privilege of preaching my first Easter Sunday service to people in chairs or pews. Indeed, it will be an Easter like none other any of us have ever experience.
When you think about all the things we won’t have, there doesn’t seem to be anything to be really excited about. Think about it. The only thing we will have to look forward to is the resurrection of Jesus.
These last few weeks haven’t fun by any stretch of the imagination. People are losing their jobs and livelihoods, and the economic impact is considerable. The psychological and emotional toll is significant also; we won’t know the real damage that has been done in these areas for a while. It’s enough to get depressed just thinking about how much longer this could last.
If there is one benefit to all this disruption and not meeting together (in person) it could be that we will all recognize what Easter Sunday is truly all about. Maybe the resurrection of Christ, on its own merit, is enough for us to celebrate. It could be that the people of God realize that the church is the people rather than a building, and we learn that the church is never closed. We are God’s people no matter what.
The early church experienced these periods of separation and isolation too, and we are here because they believed the resurrection of Christ was enough to sustain them through seasons of hope, hardship, blessing, and despair. Their testimony and faithfulness are our legacy, and now we are called upon to demonstrate faith in a season of testing.
I’m certainly looking forward to all of us being together in person for worship. I’m hopeful we will be renewed and motivated not to take the “gathering of ourselves together” for granted. I am skeptical though, because I recall how 9/11 brought us together for a season and then we drifted apart to business as usual. But, I’ll park my skepticism for now.
Still, maybe maybe this time will be different. I hope so. In the meantime, I am working on not being concerned about things I cannot control. I do want to get up on Easter Sunday saying “Christ is Risen!” to mostly empty pews and people tucked away behind the camera.
COVID-19 can’t stop the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing can separate of us from the love of God than is in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is our season to learn, love, and lean in to being the people of God. We need to think about others and how our actions are impacting them. And while we’re at it, let’s work in this wonderful and familiar refrain:
“Christ is Risen–Christ is Risen Indeed!”