By Pastor Chris Brown
Bethania Lutheran Church
My church will not likely be gathering this year as we normally do for Easter Sunday, which in many ways is heartbreaking. If you would have asked me of this possibility a few months ago I would have parroted Wallace Shawn from “The Princess Bride” with a staunch “inconceivable!” It’s still shocking to me that we’re in this moment of “shelter-in-place” orders and social distancing, in which the world we knew a few weeks ago is starkly different than the world we know now.
After years of services that follow the trajectory of Jesus entering into Jerusalem, celebrating the Passover, and then going to the cross to finally emerge out of the empty tomb, I think we’ve taken for granted the experience of these stories. We always start the story knowing how it ends, perhaps cheating ourselves out of what it was like for the disciples to enter Jerusalem triumphant only to have their world turned upside down at the death of their leader. But it sure feels like we’re living this experience now. We can relate to that space between Friday and Sunday, when time disappears because all our plans, expectations and hopes have been upended.
As a pastor I live in the seasons of the church. The landscape right now feels on par with the season of Lent, a time of reflecting on our need for the divine and waiting for its fruition come Easter Sunday. But now that COVID-19 will stretch us beyond Easter, I have found myself wondering if Lent will end and if we’ll have Easter at all this year. I’ve had low moments begging God for that Easter experience to be here now and I’ve had hopeful moments reminding myself that it will come and to just live in the present. However, it has been in those low moments when the greatest hope of Easter has hit me and filled me with promise. We are not destined to experience the cross and the empty tomb separately, but rather a balance of Lent and Easter all the time.
Even though I feel the pangs of the longing for Easter, in the last few weeks I’ve experienced the Easter promise through so many little acts of compassion and love.
I’ve seen local restaurants donate food and meals to families in need; I’ve seen churches suspends services, but continue donating and distributing food; I’ve seen individuals volunteer to bring groceries and medicine to people quarantined in their homes; I’ve seen people pool their money to be distributed to those hardest hit; I’ve seen people choose social distancing to protect the most vulnerable in our community; I’ve seen children prepare cards and art full of love and beauty for nursing and retirement home residents; I’ve seen people once divided along political lines suddenly cast those divisions to the wind and come together to help others. The truth is the Easter experience has been present this whole time in these subtle yet remarkable ways, and when I can pull myself away from the encroaching fear, I see these glimmers everywhere – and they give me hope.
I’ve also encountered the Easter experience in a rather provocative way. Someone sent me a news report of dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice – something that hasn’t happened in a long time because of all the traffic. It dawned on me that human activity has been curbed so drastically that much of creation is having an Easter experience … from us. Creation has been given room to breathe in ways it hasn’t been able to for a long time. I’m not putting any divine intent into this, but I also can’t help but see God in creation that has renewed vigor. And I pray we can see this part of Easter too.
I know that big Easter moment is coming – that time when we’ll be rid of social distancing and engage in physical community. While we’re waiting, I pray that you encounter those subtle Easter moments, the ones that show God is present with all of us in these special little acts of beauty, love, and compassion. I pray these moments can carry you to the point when this is past us. But I also pray that when we get there, we allow this to change us, to see how love triumphs division and crises tend to highlight how much we need each other, to see ourselves not as the center of our planet, but in partnership with it, to see that we aren’t destined to either pain or joy, but that we can choose to experience the balance of both, which enables us to find hope in either.
– In God’s Love, Reverend Chris Brown