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Diary of a COVID Easter

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said (and heard) it over the past week or so, but truly this has been the strangest Holy Week and Easter weekend that I have ever experienced. This morning, I sat down to chronicle the weirdness, sorrow, and hope of the past week or so.

Maundy Thursday: A glorious spring day in southern, Alberta. Sunny, seventeen degrees. This is the day the church remembers the Last Supper, Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet, the commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Our church usually has a simple meal of soup and bread in the church basement, which is followed by communion around tables. We then sing some songs, read some scriptures, and walk through the hours leading up to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. We extinguish candles along the way to enter into the growing darkness of the story. Strangely, given the somber themes of the evening, it’s a highlight in our church calendar.

None of that this year, of course. All week long I had been going back and forth between just letting the day pass or trying to do something simple on Zoom. I knew many people in our church wouldn’t be able to (or wouldn’t want to) access this technology. I also knew that there have been security concerns about Zoom raised over the last few weeks (as everyone is madly stampeding onto this platform). In the end, we had a simple prayer service on Zoom. Perhaps twenty-five or so people joined. We heard a reading from the gospel of John. I blew out a single, lonely candle on my single lonely screen. We listened to a song on YouTube called “Washer of Feet,” which contained the words:

Let us praise Jesus, the Shepherd alone;

Jesus, the Lover who gathers His own;

Jesus, the Wounded who died for us all;

Jesus, the Christ on whose goodness we call.

After the service, we weren’t quite sure what to do. Some lingered. Some exited immediately. Some peered awkwardly into their screens at their friends. Some didn’t realize their volume was still on. Many waved. It was good and strange to be together in this way.

Good Friday: A grey, cloudy day. Temperature is falling. I watch a worship service put together by sister churches in Calgary. After lunch, it is off to church to begin the two day process of recording our own Easter Sunday worship service which will be made available to congregations across Canada. We are recording across two days to minimize the number of people in the building at a time as well as to ensure adequate time to wipe down surfaces (the piano, primarily) being touched by multiple people.

Two hours later, part one of the recording is finished. I am delighted by our little church’s efforts (musical and technical). The music is joyful and hopeful. But still, how very strange to be singing “Christ the Lord is risen today” on Good Friday. And how strange to be doing it with only a handful of people.

I go pick up some flowers for my mom’s birthday tomorrow. I deliver them, chat for a few minutes at a distance which feels irritatingly weird. Spend the rest of the day neurotically monitoring my phone to see how the mixing of the sound and uploading processes were going.

Holy Saturday: Wake up to a blizzard worthy of mid-January. I sigh and ponder the task of the day, which is to finish the Easter Sunday service recording. “Seriously, God,” I grumble while white knuckling it down an icy highway around 10 am. “In the midst of a pandemic and everything else that’s going on, you expect me to record a sermon worthy of the resurrection on a miserable day like today?!”

I spend the next two hours doing some last-minute edits and printing. I even rehearse my sermon from the pulpit to a (literally) empty sanctuary which I don’t think I’ve ever done before. Strange.

The snow stops falling around noon. The sun even makes an appearance on an ominously silent and wintry long weekend Saturday. We record the remaining pieces of our Easter Sunday service. We proclaim the hope of resurrection into a camera and to the five or so people in the building. We sit there at the end of the recording, grateful to be together and to have been at least able to share the experience together. But it doesn’t feel right. Obviously.

Easter Sunday: Can’t sleep, wake up at 6:00 am. It’s a sunny morning but brutally cold for April. No hopeful green shoots or flowers for us. It still looks like mid-January outside. Meet a friend at the church around 8:00 am and we drag the flowered cross that had been part of our Easter Sunday visuals out into the parking lot so that it is visible to those passing by. We do this every year after our Easter Sunday service. This year, of course, there will be no service so we thought, “Why not bring it out early?” Perhaps it will provide a bit of hope or cheer for those driving by.

We take a few pictures once it’s out in the parking lot. “It’s kind of sad,” my friend says. “These flowers won’t last long in this cold.” No, they certainly won’t. They looked pitiful almost as soon as they were outside. “How can you subject us to this cold?!” they seemed to be pleading.

I think of Paul’s words to the Corinthians. “if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Most years, these words seem theoretical, abstract, part of the “this is how we know the resurrection happened” package. This year, not so much. This year, I think, “You know, these flowers really do look kind of pitiful, dying out here in our church parking lot.” The symbolism is grim. “Is this us?” I wonder. “Is this how the church seems, proclaiming hope in desperate times? Pitiful. Naïve. Dying?”

I think back to my out-of-place Easter Sunday sermon where I had talked about how frightened the first witnesses were. How utterly unprepared they were for anything like the resurrection of Christ. How initially they were almost reluctant participants in this great moment that launched the church and changed the world. I ponder the fact that those first witnesses to resurrection would have been deemed pitiful by Paul. Their hope in Christ certainly seeemd to be “only (or at least mostly) for this life.” I feel glad that their hopes were misplaced.

I go back home. Watch a few Easter Sunday worship services (including our own). Also watch Andrea Bocelli sing Amazing Grace alone, in the empty streets outside the Duomo di Milano. Am reduced to tears.

Easter Monday: Still very cold, but warming. I feel unproductive, sluggish. Try (and mostly fail) to read. Try (and completely fail) to write. Drift aimlessly around on social media. Play games on my phone. Watch some kids playing street hockey outside, ponder how they are not really doing well at this “social distancing” thing. Can hardly blame them. Ride the stationary bike to feel like I did one productive thing. Watch a dumb movie.

Tuesday: Still cold, but the promise of nine degrees today and warmer later this week. Spend half an hour on the (depressing) morning news. Drive to church in anticipation of a Zoom call at 10 am. Spend the first part of my morning picking up dead flowers from our church parking lot and dragging our cross back inside an empty church. Slice open my knuckles on the wire on the cross.

Sigh audibly. Begin to trawl around in my inbox for the invitation to my Zoom meeting.

***

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

— 1 Corinthians 15:17-22

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kevin K #

    Thanks for sharing your reflection. Over this Easter weekend there was a lot of grief for me, and I hadn’t quite been able to name it all. You did a marvellous job of sharing honestly about some of that yourself, and it was cathartic.

    Now, more than ever, my conviction that God (not me!) holds this whole thing called church together, is being stretched and tested in ways I couldn’t imagine. Easter Sunday felt so anticlimactic… and the past two recovery days unusually silent and (a tad) lonely.

    But in the midst of the that, we had a wonderful little Maundy Thursday service (a first for me)… huddled in our homes like those celebrating the first passover waiting for the threat to pass us over. And on Good Friday we did an ecumenical stations of the cross with the local Catholics and United Church folks, and my it was just quite special (the local priest lead it, while I haltingly played the role of moderator/IT support). Many tears by all who participated.

    Odd. For sure. And not all that right. But good in some ways too. Such a mixed bag all this Easter/Ministry/Pandemic/Faith stuff.

    Thanks again for your honesty and authenticity in this space. A gift, as always!

    April 14, 2020
    • Thanks for this, Kevin. I appreciate the kind words and hearing how Easter felt in your neck of the woods. Anticlimactic, lonely, not all that right. But good in some ways, too. A mixed bag indeed!

      April 15, 2020
  2. Linda Swab #

    Wow! Ryan this so accurately describes how so many of us feel this strange Lent/Easter. I am filing it to reread in future.

    April 14, 2020
  3. Jimmy the Kid #

    At times like these, I love to listen to great music… my wife came across this song which describes Easter from Peter’s perspective… I found this song bursting with excitement and hope…. all the best to you…..

    April 14, 2020
  4. Thanks for sharing a present glimpse into your life,Ryan. I can imagine how disconnected you must feel these days, I think I sense some melancholy in your words, and that’s OK.

    I’m curious. If you don’t mind, I would like to know why you haven’t publicly listed a link here to your Sunday messages?

    April 14, 2020
    • I don’t know about melancholy, Mike, but Easter was certainly a much different and less obviously joyful experience this year than normal years. I know I’m hardly alone in feeling this way as many pastors/priests have conveyed similar sentiments.

      I posted a link to our Easter Sunday service above. We haven’t made other recorded services public on YouTube due to the fact that sometimes private prayer requests are shared during prayer time and some people aren’t comfortable with those being online.

      April 15, 2020
  5. Paul Johnston #

    Perhaps it is the weight of our sin that closes in on us?

    April 15, 2020
  6. Paul Johnston #

    Take heart. There is hope in the road hockey game and it’s players. 🙂

    April 15, 2020
  7. I especially appreciated the cross with flowers. That’s a tradition here now.

    April 15, 2020
    • Thanks, Fred. I’m very glad to hear this.

      April 15, 2020
  8. Paul Johnston #

    So watching your service I appreciated the humility of the presentation. The sincerity of all the participants and once you got warmed up and over your “sucks to be us” 🙂 bit that too frequently permeates the spirit of your words, you reminded me why I fell in love with you years ago.

    Your understanding of Colossians 3:2 is direct, confident, unapologetic and as a consequence simple and profound… So you have a new medium. Watch from 33 minutes in, to about 38 minutes in. Do that. Do that again. Do it again after that. 5-minute bits on-line, just like that, interpret scripture directly, confidently, unapologetically. Your Spirit is a force to be reckoned with, stop feeling guilty about it! God has chosen you malacca, get over it. lol

    None of what is going on is really about Covid-19. This is the beginning of the end. The time for choosing sides will soon be here.

    My most annoying stepdaughter….maybe my second most, some days it’s hard to tell… would say, “Dude! You got this!” I think if she was talking to you, she would be spot on in her analysis.

    Funny how people who mostly just piss you off can just get it right for you sometimes. 😉

    April 15, 2020

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