The Liturgically Awkward Hope of Resurrection
If you’re anything like me, time has taken on a bit of a funny feel during these days of pandemic. Everything seems somehow off kilter, stretched out, indeterminate. It’s easy to feel like you’ve lost your bearings. Last week, I encountered one of the endless memes floating around social media these days (COVID-19 is thus far at least proving to be a reliable generator of these!) that captured what many of us are feeling: “In case you lost track, today is March 98th!” Sounds about right.
This is what it feels like, doesn’t it? We don’t really know where we are or what we’re supposed to be doing these days. Our personal rhythms are off. We’re working from home (if we’re fortunate enough to be able to do so), adjusting our patterns, dealing with the loss of regular routines. I have to have my sermons prepared two whole days earlier than usual due to the fact that our church has been recording Sunday services on Fridays, which sends my last-minute panicky preparations meticulously precise schedule spinning. I find myself speaking to a camera in a mostly empty sanctuary and doing strange things like saying “good morning” on a Friday night.
Gone are the usual rhythms of the promise of spring and the familiarity of Holy Week. All many of us can think about is this miserable virus whose steady advance is endlessly documented and charted for us daily. Our days are now spent reading the news, watching the news, drifting around social media, waiting for health updates, monitoring the latest set of social restrictions or gloomy economic predictions, scanning the horizon for any sign of good news, praying that this won’t last as long as some people are saying. COVID-19 has kind of colonized our sense of time.
This year, Holy Week comes to us in a very strange moment in our world and in our lives. Nobody has faced anything like this in our lifetime. This year, many are struggling to imagine anything like a Holy Week and especially an Easter Sunday in the context of physical isolation. It won’t be too hard to enter the depths of Good Friday, perhaps, but how on earth will we welcome the Lord of life on Sunday with our ears ringing with death and when we’re physically separated from those we love? Even the first witnesses to resurrection had a few friends to process the bewilderment with!
A friend and I were talking about the preparations our little church is making for Easter Sunday. We will be recording our Easter service a day early. Proclaiming “Christ is risen” on the day that Christ gasped “It is finished” seemed impossible, so we’ll do it on Saturday morning. My friend remarked that this Holy Week will be a “liturgically awkward” one. Indeed. Pastors and priests are always a bit ahead of the story during Holy Week simply by virtue of having to prepare in advance, so I’m familiar with writing Easter Sunday sermons on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. But Easter Sunday prep during COVID-19 is feels like a different animal altogether.
It will likely feel strange and inappropriate to record an Easter Sunday in the silence of Holy Saturday, to joyfully proclaim the triumph of the empty tomb while Jesus is busy harrowing the dark depths of hell. But I wonder if, perhaps this year of all years, it’s ok to sneak some hope and victory in a bit earlier in the proceedings than usual. Christ’s resurrection is not, after all, tidily confined to an early spring day (in the northern hemisphere) or season (in the Christian calendar), after all of the liturgical chronology has been meticulously observed, after we have managed to move our hearts and minds through the agony, apostasy and ecstasy of Holy Week with sufficient sincerity.
No, the resurrection of Christ exploded out of the confines of religious observance two thousand years ago and it has done so ever since. It is the canopy that stretches over all of the Christian life, the very ground beneath the church’s feet. It saturates our Novembers and Julys, our Advents, Lents and Ordinary Times. It is a hope that cannot be contained by our calendars or extinguished by our various crises. It has been proclaimed in the midst of wars, famines, plagues, and persecution for two millennia, stubbornly declaring that death is no match for the risen Christ, that darkness must finally give way to light.
Thank God for the liturgically awkward hope of resurrection.