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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.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. …Amen

    April 8, 2020
  2. sheidebrecht #

    Oh my yes and “let it be so” Selah. Your words are so beautiful Ryan thank you for this message. Sherry Heidebrecht

    Sent from my iPhone


    April 8, 2020
  3. eengbrec #

    At first blush I read March, 1998 which is a very good date. That was when we decided to build our present church building, which has (and will) served us so well

    April 8, 2020
  4. Paul Johnston #

    Maybe Mathew 6:34 offers comfort….”each day has enough trouble of it’s own….do not worry about tomorrow.”….Pray, reflect, trust in God.

    Maybe we can extrapolate from 6:34, that each day has enough joy too. Find it, experience it. Don’t worry about tomorrow.

    Sharon and I are going for long walks. Playing guitar, singing. I’m getting a bit silly on facebook posting the music of my life that has meant and means so much to me. Remembering events, people, some of them still with us, some of them gone…..long conversations, when was the last time you had time for long conversations, debating ideas, sharing stories and jokes….it hasn’t all been bad.

    Faith reminds me to see the good. Christ inspires me when I remember he took the time to wash the feet as a humble act of service and true expression of intimate love, of those he did love, even the one who betrayed him, the night before His passion was about to begin.

    And if the worst comes, we shall mourn and grieve the loss but we know if our faith is true, that dying eventually comes to us all and that there are worse things than death. Fear for yourself and those who die denying the redemption God offers them. Take heart and rejoice for yourself and those who die in His company.

    It is a time of testing. A time to rejoice.

    April 8, 2020

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