When we first heard the orders to self-isolate or go into quarantine due to COVID-19, there was a faint hope that, of course, this would be over by Easter. Within the first week it became evident that the isolation would take us past Easter, and parishes faced the challenges of preparing for Holy Week and Easter unable to enter their beloved church buildings or gather as communities.
A spirit of creativity quickly emerged among bishops, priests and lay people as online worship services, meetings by video or audio conference calls were scheduled, and as home offices became our new work spaces. Deacons and outreach workers found new ways to continue their ministries of care for the most vulnerable. Facebook, Instagram, Zoom and Skype became our allies in new forms of ministry. New skills in live productions of liturgy are being learned and tested. Easter Day was not the same—but it was celebrated with joy—and with the ringing of bells across the land.
For many of us, Easter Day was the goal of much hard work and anticipation. Now it is past for another year, and COVID-19 is still with us—self-isolation still continues—and the end is not in sight. In fact, it keeps being pushed further away. The daily barrage of statistics of the numbers infected, the number of people who have died and the scramble for personal protective equipment depressingly continues.
The disciples in those first post-Easter days hid behind closed doors in isolation too, hardly daring to believe the first reports of the risen Christ. They needed repeated experiences of the risen Christ in their midst in order to discover the fullness of the promise the resurrection offers. Nothing had outwardly changed. As followers of Jesus, a crucified criminal, they would still be suspect. Roman rule and religious expectations continued as before. Now they must decide how to live with this knowledge that has upended every expectation.
We continue to be isolated and barred from gathering in our churches. We have discovered the joy of Easter morning is as powerful as ever—and maybe have seen and heard it with new eyes and ears as we gathered with family or simply on our own to contemplate the Good News. Now we, too, must decide how to live the resurrection even as nothing else outwardly has changed.
We are on a long, long journey. In my experience, how we live in this journey is as important—if not more so—than getting to its end. The values of God’s kingdom need to be practiced during the journey so that we are ready for it. We need to be compassionate with everyone on this journey with us. Discouragement can be close at hand, as there is a deep weariness that accompanies the constant demands of profound change. Be gentle with yourselves as the adrenaline of facing a new challenge adds new pressure and expectations. Be present to yourself and to those you love and serve, making space for grief and lamentation and space within yourself in which seeing and believing something “new” will be possible. Stay connected as communities of faith so that the strong today can hold up the weak, who tomorrow may be strong for you. Pray for one another!
We are in an incubation period. I don’t refer to a virus, but rather to the incubation of new habits of faithfulness that will be fruitful now and in the future. The disciples gathered for prayer and mutual support. When two of them went on a long walk to Emmaus, discouraged and grieving, they discovered Christ was with them, bringing new insights to Scriptures they knew and re-framing their hope. We cannot gather physically, but we can gather in spirit virtually online, by phone and even in writing! We can worship, pray and encourage. We can read and study scripture, sharing insights with one another listening for Spirit in our midst. We can give thanks daily for the signs that God is with us. We can be patient and joyful one day at a time.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith….” (Hebrews 12:1-2)