This is not the Palm Sunday I had planned! Less than a month ago our church had an order in for a few hundred palm branches to distribute during worship. The children were to process down the aisle to the tune of “All Glory, Laud and Honor.” We would celebrate the story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, knowing how the week would unravel with his crucifixion on Friday.
Last week John Pavlovitz wrote about what it means to be a church -- how the church is so much more than “a place we hope to be open for Easter!” It goes to a fundamental misunderstanding of what church is -- what it can be.
It’s like that old Sunday School song: “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together!” The church is not the building; it’s the people. It’s the community that gathers to share faith, to witness to God’s love, to worship and then to be sent to serve, sent to become the transforming love of Christ in the world.
For a time I found myself having to answer the question often: “Is Easter canceled?” Of course not! It may look different, but it is not canceled. Church is not canceled; it just looks different. Love has not been canceled. In fact, we will need more of it in this pandemic wilderness. Our offices are closed but the church is not closed.
Easter will happen April 12. I have heard at least one political leader express his hope that our pews would once again be packed for Easter -- as if that would rescue us from this pandemic. That would be a misunderstanding of the Gospel. The Risen Christ was not stopped by the stone covering the tomb. The soldiers outside were not able to derail Easter. All the might and power of the Empire could not stop New Life from springing forth. Centuries of calamity, war, pestilence and plague have not diminished the hope and promise of Easter. COVID-19 will not prevent Easter from happening. Nor will it prevent the church from being the church. Every day I hear new stories of how this community of faith is reaching out and reaching in to discover new avenues for service and spiritual growth.
In fact, this Easter is an opportunity for the churches in our community to shine like they never have before. Here’s where I see the church being the church: Medical workers are on the front lines, risking their lives for the sake of others who may not survive without intervention. Grocery store workers, with almost no protection, making sure we have enough food. Teachers are finding creative ways to care for their students in a virtual and often unfamiliar setting. Parents are managing the chaos at home, setting aside their own worries to address the fears of their children. Every day random people ask if I know anyone who needs a grocery run or a delivery of toilet paper. Not all of these would call themselves church people or even people of faith. But many are, and they are doing the work of the church.
Easter has not been canceled. Yes, at my church we canceled the flowers. We canceled the special musicians; we suspended choir rehearsals. But Easter will still happen April 12. This year will be different -- but will still be Easter.
God will be with us. In all the anxiety and disruption, through the uncertainties, the suffering and financial turmoil, God will walk with us through this wilderness. I believe we will witness extraordinary acts of grace and sharing. Opportunities to be agents of love and care and healing will be placed before us like they never have before. And much later we’ll talk about the year when Easter was so different -- and the Church, like the Risen Christ, shone as a beacon of God’s love.