So there’s a question floating around the churches: Should we celebrate Easter on the scheduled date this year, or defer? (see e.g. here). It’s a great question. We are all in some form of lockdown. Here in Australia, no more than two people can meet at any given time, and we are not able to gather physically as a church for the foreseeable future. As many have pointed out, ‘quarantine’ simply means ‘forty days’: and the timing of our enforced quarantine resonates beautifully with the current season of Lent. For Lent, too, is a forty day period. During this time, we enter into the story of Jesus being thrown into the wilderness alone. It is a time of fasting, testing, and learning to rely ever more deeply on God; it is a time of being stripped down to essentials; it is a time of acknowledging our loneliness and deep spiritual poverty; it is a time of preparation before life flourishes again. The echoes with quarantine are clear.
So, goes the question, should we defer Easter this year, and extend Lent for as long as we are in lockdown? We could use such a period to go deeper: for example, to explore the prophetic addresses to a nation in exile struggling to work out how to be faithful in new and uncertain times. Then, when we are able to gather again, having come out of this longer darkness we might celebrate Easter with a deeper and more abiding joy than usual.
The metaphor is powerful, and I am attracted to the idea. And yet … if we wait this year, we are claiming that the circumstances of COVID-19 are unique. This effectively denies our history (the bubonic plague and Spanish Flu immediately come to mind), as well as the extraordinary suffering that people all over the world experience every year, and all the ways they are prevented from gathering. People suffer from preventible diseases, abuses, and poverty: and yet, we celebrate Easter. People live on rubbish dumps and in refugee camps and warzones: and yet, we celebrate Easter. People are forbidden from gathering as Christians: and yet, we celebrate Easter. People experience religious violence, even genocide: and yet, we celebrate Easter. To delay Easter because we ourselves are in lockdown seems to me an act of historical and cultural arrogance, and shows up our lack of solidarity with the suffering of the world at any other time.
There is never a good enough time to celebrate Easter, and that’s how it should be. Jesus Christ was raised not at an opportune time, but out of the grave and back into violence, chaos, and the brutality of the Roman Empire. On the surface, nothing had changed; nothing had been ‘fixed’. But he rose; he ascended; he made us part of his story and called us into his priesthood: and that changes everything. It means we do not wait for things to be perfect before living out our calling. Instead, following the Spirit’s lead, we roll up our sleeves and get to work praying for and serving this broken old world.
So we need Easter when it comes, not when it ‘feels right’ to us. We need to be reminded that Christ is raised always in the midst of terrible darkness; and, as members of the Risen Christ, we need to be recalled to our role in his story through this, and every, historical moment. Even if it means re-membering through flickering screens, physically apart.
That said, this may not be the year for a triumphal Paschal service; indeed, perhaps no year is the year for that. For the triumphal service too often mimics the pomp of the enthronement of a powerful Roman Emperor, and Jesus is not and never will be that sort of king. Instead, like the women at the tomb, let us experience Easter hesitantly, in poverty, at dawn. Let us enter into the bewilderment and confusion of the first disciples; let us be doubting; let us be afraid. Let us pass on the strange news household to household, quietly, humbly, with questions and wonderment; let us ponder it in our hearts. For he is Risen, he is among us, and we are living into his new creation: even as we are still figuring out what it all means.
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