It’s been an interesting Easter season. It’s like the coronavirus put us all in a state of perpetual Lent. Some of us are enjoying this time of social distancing — either the solitude or being cooped up with a house full of children, both have their benefits.
I was talking to the Rev. Stephen Harding, rector of Grace Church, the other day and he mentioned that there might be positives to be found in this year’s quiet Easter. It certainly gives us time to contemplate the message found in Christ’s resurrection.
As I write this, I think about Maundy Thursday, Holy Thursday, the Last Supper, when Jesus shares a last meal with his disciples and through his humility — and to teach us all about humility — he washes their feet. He knows by now that he is the son of God and he knows what awaits him.
Maundy Thursday is the beginning of the Easter Triduum; Good Friday, Holy Saturday or the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday follow. It’s a solemn time, we remember Jesus’ betrayal, persecution, and death. But it ends with a joyous occasion because we celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter, and hope that our own deaths end in the same way. He tells us it will, if we believe.
In John’s gospel we read the story of Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary. Lazarus dies, and Jesus raises him from the dead. The Rev. Cindy Stravers, associate rector at the Church of Heavenly Rest in Manhattan, delivered a sermon about Lazarus a few weeks ago, and MV Times publisher Peter Oberfest shared it with me after he received a copy from his son-in-law, Eliot Pierce. I asked Rev. Stravers if I could share some of it here:
“I imagine that the sadness felt by Mary and Martha and the grief Jesus felt at Lazarus’ death must have been the same kind of sickening pall that threatens to destroy our hope as we listen to the news from around the world — our country and our city.
“Lazarus’ life was over — his body was bound tightly in cloth bands and entombed in hard rock. His sisters and his friends were devastated, angry — lashing out and questioning the wisdom of Jesus’ itinerary.
“As a human being, Jesus was angry too — and he wept. But as the Son of God, Jesus had the ability to see life not only beyond death, but life within death.
“Lazarus was dead and yet, Lazarus was alive.
“While the climax of this story remains a holy mystery, the dénouement reveals something unambiguous. Lazarus needed to be freed — the bands that held him down, the cloth that kept him unable to move freely needed to be removed. ‘Unbind him! Let him go!’ Jesus commanded.
“I find it strange and wonderful that Jesus didn’t take care of the whole situation himself. Rather, he invited those standing around to be a part of this resurrection. …May we have the faith to believe that new life is possible, the courage to tend it — to unbind it — the willingness and strength to touch what seems to have died — in order to participate in its ultimate resurrection.
“New life — that’s the promise — God’s promise to us and to all of creation today and in the days to come.”
The Triduum ends with Jesus rising from the dead. That’s what gives us hope. Hope now, when this pandemic weighs heavy on our hearts, and hope always, even after this is over and beginning to fade from our memory.
Some of our Island clergy weighed in on this unusual Easter season.
Father Chip Seadale, rector of St. Andrew’s Church, wrote:
“If there’s one thing I’m re-learning about Life in the Age of the Coronavirus, it is our VERY Easter message: That after death comes life, and that death is NO match for love. Sometimes it’s hard to remember this when things are at their darkest, but morning and her soft light always follows the night.”
Rev. Harding wrote:
“In John’s Gospel story, Mary Magdalene is the one to discover — in the dark — that Jesus’ tomb has been opened. While the other two are inside it, Jesus appears to her: it’s just the two of them.
“With the coronavirus precautions in place for this Easter and no public services of worship possible, I keep coming back to the Resurrection having taken place in the dark without anyone watching. This unobserved moment of death overcome, followed by the intimacy of Mary Magdalene alone with the resurrected Jesus, speaks to me of the possibility of direct felt experience: of the internal inbreaking of shock, wonder, and awareness of what the Resurrection means. The individual, personal experience of ‘what the Resurrection means for me’ is something that can get lost in the observance of larger corporate worship. Paradoxically, this year of social distance offers us a more direct-felt experience of the Resurrection; the possibility of deeper intimacy with God, and hope for a better future.”
The Rev. Richard DenUyl Jr., pastor of the Federated Church, shared:
“Normally preaching on Easter is easy. The church is full, the energy is high, and the message is all about joy.
“But not this year. I have been struggling to find new meaning in the old story, something that would speak to today. A few days ago that answer came to me via a sudden experience/revelation that was nothing short of surreal.”
Everyone is invited to join these Island clergy and others as they celebrate this season of new life. A list of virtual services around the Island can be found here.