15 Apr Easter & Emmanuel: God is With US
April 15, 2020 Blog Post
On Sunday we celebrated Easter, the highest and holiest day on the Christian calendar. It was, without question, the strangest Easter I’ve ever experienced. Unable to be in the church sanctuary, separated from my congregation, devoid of the soaring sounds of organ and piano, trumpet and choir, I proclaimed the truth of the day anyway via our livestreaming worship: Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!
And, yet……that afternoon one of my parishioners died of COVID-19. She is the first of my congregation to do so. Later that evening I learned that a dear friend has three family members suffering from the virus. The concentric circles were closely around me rapidly. This was suddenly hitting very close to home. In fact, it had arrived on my doorstep.
Sometime in the next week I will officiate at a graveside service for my church member which will be attended by only a handful of people—no more than ten, to be exact, and that number includes the funeral home staff. The few family members and friends who will be allowed to bear witness to this event will be standing far apart from one another, wearing masks and gloves. No one will be allowed to touch the bereaved, to offer a hug or a shoulder to cry on. Since the surviving spouse has been directly exposed to coronavirus, this is a necessity. But what am I supposed to do? Wave to the grieving family???
All of this feels so wrong at so many levels. I am not made for this. None of us are. I don’t know how to do ministry or express care from afar. Nobody does. We are learning on the fly, adapting as quickly as we can, yet none of it feels adequate or satisfying or up to the task. It is simply all we have at this moment.
One thought that has stayed with me this week is how important institutions and rituals are. Institution bashing has been in vogue the past several years, and that is not altogether a bad thing. Every institution needs accountability and constructive critique to remain focused on serving people rather than the system itself. But that does not mean institutions are in and of themselves bad. As we’ve been reminded throughout this pandemic, they are necessary and absolutely critical for mobilizing large solutions to large problems.
When life is going well, institutions tend to stay in the background—sort of like wallpaper. You get so accustomed to them that you forget what’s on your walls. But, all of a sudden, we are taking much less for granted, including the role institutions play in our lives. Like a lot of people, I find I frequently have no idea what the day or the date is. In the BC (Before Coronavirus) era, Sunday was the day that grounded my week. I knew where I was in the week either because I was so many days before worship on Sunday or so many days after it. With the changing of my work and worship schedule, I feel unmoored.
In a similar way, I find that as the familiar rituals of my life have been eliminated, the impact, again, is to leave me feeling adrift. I am a scheduler and planner without a schedule or a plan. My morning gym routine is kaput. What I once felt reasonably competent at—like planning a funeral service—presents an entirely new learning curve. Every livestream is an exhausting, harrowing rollercoaster ride. As one of my clergy colleagues so eloquently put it this week, “I can’t take having to learn one more new technology!!!” Amen, brothers and sisters.
In particular I miss our Sunday rituals. I miss our worship space. I miss people greeting one another at the door, hearing the choir warming up, smelling the coffee percolating in the fellowship hall. I miss the noise of our children. I can usually tell who has arrived in the church just by the sounds coming from the children’s wing. I especially miss the laughter and the praying and singing together.
And yet for all that, the truth of Easter still stands. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! God is alive and acting in the muck and mess of COVID-19. God’s grace is equal to the tasks and needs of our days. Signs of selflessness, sacrifice, and kindness are everywhere. New life and hope are springing up. Peace, which can be elusive during anxious times, is offered to us by a God who knows that even death will not be the final word over our lives.
Yes, these are trying, scary days. But friend, please remember: you are not alone. The tomb is empty which means Jesus is with you. Right here. Right now. Even in our pandemic-mandated isolation.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!