He is risen. He is risen, indeed.
This statement and ensuing response will be repeated by Christians all over the world this Sunday — but mostly electronically.
For the first time in anyone’s memory, most churches will be absent the large crowds that fill their pews on this holiest of days. But like the churches, the tomb is still empty.
The secular trappings that have crept into the celebration of Easter will also be lacking. No Easter egg hunts with dozens of children running around posing for pictures with the Easter bunny while searching for candy eggs, or plastic replicas filled with prizes. Nothing says Resurrection Sunday like a gold egg with a $10 bill inside.
Most families will have to abandon the large gatherings that have become customary on this day. My family would have typically been 12 or 14 strong, with ham and deviled eggs and green beans and, if I were lucky, coconut cake for dessert, followed by the aforementioned hiding of eggs, all consumed and digested in plenty of time to allow us to settle in to watch that golf tournament over in Augusta.
Not this year.
The trappings of Easter are different this year, just like everything that has happened from the first week of March onward has been different.
But we are resilient, we Americans, and I have been amazed at what a great job the faith leaders who are my friends — and those I will never meet — have done in carrying on the business of the church at a time when we need the church, and its teachings and its service, more than ever.
My pastor has been conducting his own little “fireside chats” — which he calls Dave Talks, because his name is Dave — and he talks to the congregation three times a week. They are marvelous. He keeps us abreast of what is happening in the community and offers us hope and peace and solace through scriptures and prayer. He offers a soothing balm to the raging fears of our souls, all through the magic of technology.
Another preacher friend of mine hosts interactive prayer time and Bible study throughout the week, through some mysterious format called Zoom, and I have been able to take part in those sessions as well, making new friends along the way. Another friend has given me the opportunity to share my experiences in the Holy Land with his parishioners over Skype.
It is really very heartening to see this 21st century technology helping to spread the word of Christ and helping us all stay in touch with other believers.
I’ve watched Sunday mornings evolve each week as pastors experiment and seek ways that best suit them and their congregations — and because services start at different times and since most of them, even the live broadcasts, are recorded and archived, I’ve been able to enjoy worship from several churches each week.
At my own church, Conyers UMC, we have gone from an awkward 20-minute presentation in a music studio on the first week, to a professional presentation each Sunday featuring every member of our staff engaged in the worship service, remotely, from their homes, highlighted by our pastor offering his sermon, complete with robe and stole, from our sanctuary.
My daughter, Jenna, and her husband, Evan, are praise leader and technology expert, respectively, at their Presbyterian church, and I get to worship remotely with them each Sunday as well. And then I get to drop in, online, to worship with the rest of my family at First Baptist in Watkinsville.
No matter the denomination, the church is getting out the message. And it’s the same story around the world. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to loud shouts of “Hosanna, Hosanna,” the Pharisees admonished him and told him to rebuke his followers. Jesus replied, “If they were silent these very stones would cry out.”
It’s like that. The worldwide pandemic we know as COVID-19 or the coronavirus has been able to keep the doors of most church buildings locked and shuttered for several weeks now, including Easter Sunday, which would have been unthinkable a few short weeks ago.
But the church is not a building. The church is the body of believers in Jesus Christ, and just like when the Grinch learned from the Whos down in Whoville that Christmas didn’t come from a store, the world is learning this year that locking the doors of the church cannot stop Easter from coming.
We serve a risen savior. He’s in the world today. And our faith in him will see us through this dark time in our history, and we will celebrate his victory over the grave as passionately and fervently as ever, just as we will soon celebrate our victory over this horrible epidemic.
Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed.