In Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is locked for the first time since the Black Plague in 1349. Oh, it has been shut up for a few days here and there – as a protest or a short-term war response. But this is the first time the doors have been locked, indefinitely, in more than six centuries. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is, of course, the traditional site of Jesus’ burial, the location of the Resurrection. It is closed, and will stay closed, in the face of the international pandemic. The shopkeepers will not be able to sell their cheesy knick-knacks to thousands of Christian tourists absent this year.
This closure of a holy place accompanies the closure of church buildings around the world. And not just churches, but mosques, A.A. meeting halls, synagogues, and temples of all types are shuttered.
So, Christians will forgo the passing of the peace, the instructions to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” In fact, in an abundance of love and caution, we will worship in spirit and in truth, apart from each other this Easter.
That first Easter was not so great either, just to remind you.
There was not one single ham dinner served that first Easter. No White House Easter Egg Roll, no bunnies, no Peeps, no candy eggs. Chocolate wasn’t even a thing. There was not a single note played by a single pipe of the 3,944 pipes of a Flentrop cathedral organ. No choirs. No priests in robes, no Easter cantatas, no grand oratorios, no parades, or frilly dresses or fancy hats. There was not a single offering taken, and though it may shock you, none of Jesus’ followers had communion that first Easter Sunday. Nary an Easter lily would have been present.
Which is to say, we will be fine. Christ is risen! And the response, via Zoom: “He is risen indeed.”
Before Covid-19, many lifetimes ago, I would enter my church and look across the fence and see the priest for the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Nicholas. He would wave, and I would say “Christos voskrese!” and he would respond, with a smile, “Voistinu voskrese!”
It may be a bit different this year, but that’s the wonderful thing about Easter. It’s always different anyway. Different Sundays, different styles, different traditions, different languages and cultures. The fact is, God did something new. And something new will happen this year, and we do not have to be infecting each other to recognize this differentness. Because our entire celebration is grounded in this one fact: In Christ, God did something the world had never seen before. And if this year feels foreign or strange, that’s okay. The resurrection is not something we can do anything about one way or another anyway. The resurrection of Jesus, and our resurrection is about the surrender of human agency at its very core. We are powerless in the face of death. We cannot raise ourselves. There is nothing we can do, but proclaim, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” And the power of death that still holds sway for the moment is put on notice that it is on shaky ground.
COVID-19 does not have the final word. Thanks be to God.