This morning, I recorded my children’s message for tomorrow’s virtual Easter service. I began it without thinking, by saying, “Happy Easter!”
As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I inwardly questioned them.
Will this really be a happy Easter?
I mean, on the one hand, tomorrow we’ll celebrate that Jesus is alive, a fact that’s always joy-filled and happy.
On the other, we’ll do so from home, as a family of four, rather than in a packed sanctuary filled with our community and the traditional sights, smells, and sounds of Easter.
We’ll do an Easter egg hunt here, at our house, but no matter how good it is, it’ll fall short of the one my mom traditionally does for Hope in her backyard.
I’ll cook our traditional Easter ham, but without my parents and aunt and uncle, the table will feel empty.
Easter just won’t be the same.
And that makes me sad.
This week, as I’ve been sitting with the Mark 16 account of the Resurrection, I’ve noticed something that until this year, I’ve never paid any attention to.
It was surprise, followed by confusion, terror, and fear.
They were surprised to find an empty tomb; Confused as to where Jesus was; Terrified of what it meant; And fearful of what would become of them.
Those are emotions that I can relate to this year.
While the empty tomb doesn’t surprise me, the circumstances we find ourselves in do. Four weeks into self-isolation, I constantly wonder, “How did we get here?”
I’m confused as to why, during a season when I definitely need light, I’m finding it hard to want to celebrate Easter – even though a week ago, all I wanted to do was celebrate Palm Sunday rather than enter into the darkness of Holy Week.
Like the women on that first Easter morning, I’m also terrified by what this all means.
I wonder what the lasting implications of this virus will be.
I wonder how long we’ll have to self-isolate.
I wonder when – if ever – we’ll feel safe in large crowds of people again.
I wonder when in-person church will return.
I wonder if I’ll have a job when this is all said and done.
I wonder if Hope will start Kindergarten in the fall… Or if any kids will.
Those questions – and all the uncertainty associated with them – terrify me.
Like the women, I’m also afraid of what will become of us. Like Jesus’ friends hidden behind locked doors, I’m trying desperately to stay in the safety of my home, afraid of what will become of us if we venture out.
I’m fearful about how this virus will change our world… And I’m fearful about the ways that it won’t.
This is certainly not the cheery, hopeful Easter message I’ve come to expect.
And yet, here’s what I’ve realized.
In so many ways, Easter has become a bit too ordinary, a bit too predictable, even a bit too sanitized, for me.
I know that we’ll crucify Jesus on Friday, sit in the darkness and waiting of Saturday, and then celebrate his resurrection on Sunday.
I’ve heard and told this story so many times that it’s lost its wonder.
Until, that is, I went looking at it from a new, (forced) perspective this year, from the shelter of my house, from the midst of this quarantine, in the middle of what’s (hopefully) a once-in-a-century pandemic.
The Easter story isn’t synonymous with happiness.
Good stories rarely are.
It’s filled with drama that includes surprise, confusion, terror, and fear.
And because it is, it’s a story that’s good for all times and all places.
The empty tomb shows us that Jesus – who is God – is powerful.
So powerful that death could not defeat him.
And neither can COVID-19.
So this Easter, I’ll worship from home.
As I do, I’ll admit my surprise, confusion, terror, and fear because, thankfully, I know the rest of the Easter story.
I know that Jesus shows up.
Jesus meets the women – and his friends – in the midst of their surprise, confusion, terror, and fear.
He mysteriously shows up behind doors that are locked every bit as tight as ours and meets his friends in the middle of their doubts, all the while assuring them, peace be with you.
I don’t know about you, but that’s a message that reaches into the depths of my soul right now.
So, no, Easter won’t be the same tomorrow.
Even so, I have this sneaking suspicion, that it just might be the best Easter yet.
Because I, too, am expecting that behind my locked doors, I'll encounter the risen Christ in a new way.
And because of that, even though I’m reluctant to say, “Happy Easter!”, I’ll still proclaim with every confidence that
Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed.