April 8, 2020
This week it has been hard for me to remember that we are in the midst of the most sacred time of the church calendar. Without our usual routine of gathering together physically for worship for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, Holy Week just feels . . . different. Easter is coming quickly, and the pastoral staff and our congregation have adapted in such marvelous and creative ways. Still, this Easter may feel unrecognizable to many of us who are used to certain traditions and routines of celebration that we look forward to year after year.
Moreover, while the pandemic appears to show signs of slowing, the crisis seems as if it will continue for quite some time. And even once it is “over” (I’m still not sure what that is going to look like), the personal and economic devastation will no doubt persist. Easter, in which we celebrate rebirth, new life, resurrection, and hope, will not signal the end of our present crisis.
Have you seen the meme going around social media recently: “This is the Lent-iest Lent I ever Lented”? The dark, reflective nature of Lent seems more appropriate now than ever in the midst of the global crisis. There is another especially funny meme I’ve seen: “I honestly hadn’t planned on giving up quite this much for Lent.” Humor helps in these difficult times.
In light of the pandemic, I am worried that Easter day and the season that follows just might feel like the “Lent-iest” Easter we’ve ever experienced.
What does Easter look like in the midst of a global pandemic that continues to rage? Can we celebrate resurrection and life when anxiety, suffering, and loss are daily realities for many?
The resurrection account in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:1–8) may be best suited for this moment. If you haven’t read it recently, it is worth the quick read. This ending is unique among the Gospels in that it doesn’t actually narrate Jesus’ resurrection appearances to his followers. Mark ends abruptly at 16:8, with the women who find the empty tomb fleeing in fear and confusion: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The shorter and longer endings printed in most translations were most likely added centuries after the original Gospel was penned. Readers are left to wonder . . . what comes next? There is no cathartic moment; Mark ends tense with expectation and uncertainty.
What comes next?
Moreover, how should we respond?
Mark promises resurrection but does not show it. The Gospel provides a glimmer of hope but ultimately leaves us wanting more. Perhaps this should be instructive as we prepare to celebrate Easter. The ending of Mark is perhaps strikingly realistic in our present context: The women at the tomb encounter an angel who says Jesus has been raised, but they can hardly believe it. The divine messenger directs them to Galilee, saying that the resurrected Lord will meet them there, but they are too fearful to go for the time being.
When we gather virtually to celebrate Easter this Sunday, my hunch is that we will have mixed feelings. We will proclaim hope and resurrection, but we will continue to bear the anxiety wrought by the pandemic. We will feel the tension between hope and fear, life and death. It’s okay to live in the ambiguity of the moment; these are not times for pure feelings.
Still, it is worth remembering that we do not celebrate Easter simply as a day, but rather as a season, and perhaps even more so as a mode of being or a way of life. Easter represents the hope that we carry as people of faith. We are resurrection people. We believe that fear, loss, and death do not have the final word. We trust that rebirth and new life are a part of the rhythm of the cosmos even as we experience the earth being “reborn” with the arrival of Spring.
Friends, hear the Good News: Easter is coming. Even this year. Perhaps even more so because of the crisis of the pandemic. Our celebrations will look radically different than we are used to, but we should celebrate nevertheless.
And beyond that, we should take that next step that the women in Mark’s Gospel surely took: we should go show the world what rebirth and resurrection and divine love look like. The world surely needs an abundance of grace, kindness, charity, unity, and love these days.
Blessings to you all this Holy Week, and in the season of Easter that will assuredly follow.