With churches closed for the last few weeks of Lent and also for Easter due to the COVID-19 pandemic, churches of all sizes and denominations have scrambled to find ways to stay connected. At a time when we need each other most, we cannot gather – at least not in person. Clergy on Twitter and Facebook have reached out to each other with suggestions and support, everything from hosting Zoom bible study to sharing cringe-worthy stories and videos of when things went sideways. The English rector who lit his sweater on fire during evening bible study and calmly patting out the flames on his shoulder before continuing his meditation was a prime example that it’s okay for things not to go perfectly. No one needs perfect right now. We need what is honest, heartfelt, and genuine even if it’s messy, awkward, or clumsy.
As we all realized that churches would be closed for Easter, and likely beyond, there was almost an immediate knee-jerk response from clergy and laypeople alike that Easter would be celebrated the first Sunday our congregations could gather. That quickly shifted to discussions of the need to celebrate all of Holy Week together as many people would be grieving losses and would need the journey to the cross, the darkness and grief of the tomb, and then, and only then, to celebrate the victory over death. It didn’t take long for the liturgy police to point out that Easter is the first Sunday following Passover, which follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox and thus, is a feast which absolutely cannot, must not be moved. To quote Doctor Who, ‘Fixed point in time. So sorry.’
I was, and still am, pretty solidly in the camp of celebrate Holy Week whenever we can gather again, even if it’s July. Why? Because somehow I have a hard time accepting that God is bound by our calendars or our sense of timekeeping. God rested on the seventh day – so for the sake of argument, what if God started creating the world on a Wednesday and we’ve been celebrating this Sabbath on Sunday thing wrong all along? Just as the Sabbath is about remembering to take time to rest with God, so too our remembrances of the events of Holy Week and the celebration of the Resurrection are about taking the time to retell the stories and celebrate the promises of God which have been fulfilled in Christ.
Of all the days on the church calendar, the Easter Vigil is far and away my favorite as we tell the stories of God’s promises throughout the generations, waiting in the darkness for the light we know will come. This year, it was a little different. For the first time, I had the opportunity to read for the Vigil. I read not in a church but in my sons’ bedroom because it was the quietest room in the house. I read not in the darkness of evening, but in the brightness of mid-morning, waiting patiently for the young football player and his father to finish working out on the field to their hype music with it’s window-rattling bass. I read not to the familiar faces of my congregation but to a stuffed dog who propped up my iPhone so I could record with a steady camera angle. I read not on Holy Saturday but on Monday morning so that I could email the recording to our choir director, turned tech guru extraordinaire, who would have to splice together all the readings, songs, prayers and sermon that would make up our Easter Vigil. I spent Easter Vigil not in my lovely church but in my bedroom, not at 7:30 but at 9:30, not with others but alone, and yet – not alone. The end result was beautiful and moving in ways I could never have imagined. Each from our own homes, we came together and yet did not gather, separate and yet united.
Time feels strangely fluid in these odd days we’re living in right now. We have to remind each other what day it is. Most of our social obligations have been cancelled en masse, for how long, no one knows. And where is God in all of this? God is beyond all time, unencumbered by our human record keeping and calendars. The victory over death happened over 2000 years ago, it happens now in this moment, in this breath and in the one we are about to take, and it will happen until the end of time because in ways we will never be able to fathom, the resurrection is unbound by time.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!