We were going to get up and watch the sunrise this morning, my wife and I. In 22+ years of marriage we have never seen an Easter sunrise together, so we thought catching one would be a nice way to start the day. However, Oklahoma being Oklahoma, about 15 minutes before sunrise, thunder rolled loudly as a storm blew through, which in turn helped us decided to lay in bed a bit longer, listening to the wind and rain. It was just one more thing in the spring of 2020 which didn’t go the way we planned.
This whole spring has been weird, hasn’t it? Everything around us has changed: schools cancelled, working from home (if you’re able), trying to adjust to social distancing, being smart about what you do and don’t do, where to find toilet paper, trying to flatten the curve, learning how to wear a mask and not touch your face…we’re all attempting to figure it out. It goes without saying that those in areas much harder hit than ours are facing a much tougher time dealing with this pandemic. Or how about those who simply can’t stay home from work, or for whom home just isn’t safe, or those who don’t even have a place to call home…I simply can’t begin to imagine.
But today, Easter Sunday, I felt the oddity, the strangeness, the distance much deeper than ever since this began.
While texting with friends and zoom-calling with family this afternoon, I became even more aware of the oddity of it all. Again, I’m grateful for the ability to text and talk, but it’s just not the same. Hearing my dad share how much he loves each and every one of us kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids, and how he prays for us all daily…well, that was pretty dang special, but I’d have much rather been able to give him a hug and kiss on the cheek than wave from a screen 1200 miles away. Some sweet folks from the kids ministry at our church did a “drive by Easter Parade” and as it came by our house it was all I could do not to run up and hug each one. I was the recipient of so many texts messages, so many reminders of what constitutes community and family, my simple replies didn’t do justice to how much each one meant. I wish I could go get a cup of coffee and catch up with all of them.
And yet, that just isn’t possible right now, is it? We couldn’t gather with our church to worship the risen Savior (a first in my life, I believe…not being able to attend church on Easter). We weren’t able to have the big Easter dinner with family and friends (another first, I’m certain). We, like most, spent today worshipping in our living rooms, “seeing” family via technology, and feasting in our kitchen with our kiddos. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so very thankful we are able to do these things! And yet, they are also a reminder of how unlike any other Easter this one is.
And yet, maybe not.
Maybe this one is just a bit more true to the tale than others.
Instead of a huge service with hundreds of people all dressed in their new Easter pastels, we, like the early followers of Jesus, spent today huddled in our homes, unable to gather openly for fear of something “out there.” Their isolation was due to the Romans, ours is due to COVID-19. Or even if you had church in the “drive-in” style, the simple fact that you were in your car and not in a chair or pew was a glaring reminder that this is not normal.
On that first Easter Sunday, Mary went to the garden alone, just to be near her beloved rabbi again. We, too, were alone, or with only our closest family today, as we worshipped the Savior who conquered sin and death. Our churches were empty, but not because Jesus didn’t rise…no…a pandemic can’t nullify that! Just as Mary found out upon arrival at the tomb that morning long ago, we find it empty still today!
The bedrock truths of Easter have not changed. The foundation of our faith is not lessened by the inability to gather together as normal. The Risen Lord Jesus is ruling and reigning…I believe this with all my heart.
I simply miss my people. I miss our family. I miss our friends. I miss our church…not the building, but the church…the people of God gathered to together. I miss seeing their faces, hearing their voices in the room with me, not through a computer screen. I sorely miss walking forward to receive the bread and wine, the body and the blood broken and poured out, the family meal around the common table to remember the very things we celebrated and sang about THIS week:
“Christ has died, Chris is risen…Christ will come again!”
This is our hope. This is our joy. This is our faith.