I haven’t maintained a blog in years, but I thought Lockdown Easter was more of a true Easter than I’ve had in years, and I wanted to talk about it.
Growing up a Christian, it’s weird and sad to not be at church today. Ted and I watched the live broadcast of Andrea Bocelli’s concert on the steps of Milan’s Cathedral. He was surrounded by emptiness. As Bocelli sang, the cameras showed the deserted centers of London. Of New York. Of Paris. The sadness of sickness and isolation took center stage as Bocelli prayed for us all with his music.
It felt more like Good Friday than Easter.
Traditionally, the church services for these two holidays are very different. One is akin to a funeral and revisits the events of the death of Jesus of Nazareth, and the other is akin to somewhere between a birthday party and a wedding reception, revisiting the events of the moment he was discovered alive again.
Not today. Lockdown didn’t stop for Easter. Neither day had the consolation of a hug or even live ensemble music. Whatever liturgy we practiced came through a screen.
Lockdown Easter gave us a chance to see that, though we schedule them, the shock of Good Friday, the confusion and isolation of Holy Saturday, and the light and transformation of Easter are not calendar events, but ongoing, simultaneous realities. When Good Friday’s observation (which, for me, was a toggle between screen services, readings, and prayers) looks exactly like Easter’s observation (more reading, screen liturgies, and prayers) these days blend together like all the others of quarantine, and you know what? That’s ok. It’s GOOD, even. The spiritual moments celebrated by Holy Week are ongoing realities in which we participate with our attention, and this side of heaven, we’re always experiencing a mix of grief, uncertainty, and growth. Easter this way removes the artifice of separating those by a day of the week.
Lockdown Easter takes away our shortcuts—when Easter Sunday looks and feels like Good Friday, we our denied our usual triumphalism. We have to do Easter without already knowing how it all ends. Instead of Easter marking a victory—which feels disingenuous with all the pain and heart-sickness and violence that is still in me and the world—we’re celebrating the resurrection when there is a lot of resurrecting left to do. To do this, its becomes a collective acknowledgement of a real Hope beyond hope. We’re doing our faltering best—over the same screens that also bear continual reminders of the sick and the dying—to come together and celebrate the hope that the resurrection of Christ brings into the world.
Lockdown Easter helps us find God in the world instead of in the churches, where many of always go to find him. It keeps us from looking for God at all in specific places or circumstances. More than once I have taken a wrecking ball to my life, inspired by a Henri Nouwen line “I surely have to be where God is.” But here’s what I’ve learned after doing that a few times (I’m a slow learner, ok?): God is not in a particular place or circumstance. He’s in all of them. I don’t have to go anywhere else or do anything special to be where He is. He is in me and with me, and in Him all things move and have their being. This is an opportunity to practice that Everywhere Present-ness.
So where do we look for God when we can’t go anywhere or do anything? We look for him where He has always been: In taking our very own next step, whatever small one that is. We look for God in the in-betweenness of things. We find him here, in our locked down, isolated in our homes. We find him with the sick and the dying, with the fearful and the exhausted who care for them. We find God in the hope beyond hope before a vaccine, before an anti-viral, before we know how to rise again from economic devastation. God is surely here.
Lockdown Easter keeps us in the world. In lockdown, we lost our opportunity to immerse ourselves in the pastel rituals, cliches and displays—It’s a good thing, too, because knowing us, we’d still brandish them in spite of being surrounded by incongruous suffering. We don’t have our usual chance to take ourselves out of the world and pretend for a day, a minute, a Sunday service that things are more victorious than what we actually experience.
This is good news. Jesus, in one of his final prayers before his arrest prayed “not that you would take them out of the world, Father, but that you would protect them from evil..” (John 17) As He was sent into the world, so are we. The prayer of Jesus was that we would all be one—with each other, with those that believe in the resurrection of Christ, but also get this: with those who don’t yet believe in that Hope beyond hope. We have been given this chance to be one with the world instead of taking ourselves out of it.
We watched the Vatican Mass this morning and I watched a bit of local mass from St. Paul’s here in San Rafael, and millions around the world watched that live broadcast with Andrea Bocelli, who choked up as he finished with Amazing Grace in English, as did the rest of us.
We had a gift today to experience the fullness of death, burial, and resurrection in and out of the fullness of time, but in a new kind of oneness and authenticity. A kind of authenticity and solidarity that just might open the door—rolling stones away, even—to experiencing that Hope beyond hope together with the whole of the world. And that’s something worth celebrating.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.