Unbelievably, this is our 3rd pandemic Easter. Remember back in 2020 at the beginning of all of this when we thought that we might celebrate Easter together but just a few weeks late?
Now we have done a whole lectionary cycle of Matthew, Mark and Luke, all shedding new light on this world we are living in. And I will be honest, there is no small measure of disappointment that I am carrying this year. Not in anything in particular, but more generally a sense of loss at how much of a struggle and slog it is to navigate something that should be a grand celebration.
As a pastor, I have learned to temper my expectations about many things. I have learned that every congregation I serve has its own little quirks and idiosyncrasies that I just need to accept. I have learned that making changes to Christmas traditions, like when we sing Silent Night on Christmas Eve, may as well come with my resignation letter. I know that pulling that beloved picture of Jesus off the wall of the church basement might result in a special congregational meeting.
But I have also learned that there are other places where there are all kinds of freedom to shape and create as I see fit: Holy Week and Easter being one of them. The breadth of traditions from between Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday often carry with them the sense that these things ought to be done in the ways that Christians have been doing them for centuries. Sure there are particular traditions here and there, but often congregations have been very open to Holy Week and Easter ideas.
On Palm Sunday there is a palm procession, even though it is a bit awkward. And if we can awkwardly do that with a neighbouring congregation, even better!
Maundy Thursday it is often an opportunity to gather around the table and delve into the richness of the Lord’s supper… and maybe even try foot washing!
On Good Friday there is often a procession the cross, long expansive prayers, long solemn psalm chants or the solemn reproaches and sometimes even the chance to reverence the cross.
And for the really adventurous, Holy Saturday might include the Easter Vigil with its gathering around the New Fire, its 12 readings and 12 psalms and then a whole communion service to conclude!
And of course on Easter Sunday people have gathered early for Sunrise services, cooked Easter breakfast, shouted “alleluia” on command, dance in the aisles and more.
And the thing about many of these traditions (unlike Silent Night which was written because one congregation’s organ broke on Christmas Eve and so the organist wrote a carol for guitar) is that they are rooted in scripture or in the ancient practices of the early church.
Which brings me back to my disappointment. I wish the past 3 Holy Weeks and Easters were more about all that other stuff I listed above than about pandemic and snow storms. I wish our biggest concern had been about how to gather and tell the Passion and Resurrection stories again and anew in our community… and not whether it was even safe to gather in-person.
And then I hear the Easter gospel anew.
Particularly Luke’s Easter story. One of my personal heresies about Luke is that I think the writer of the gospel was actually a woman. Luke has a particular insight into those who occupied the bottom of social ranks, those who lived on the margins. The way Luke tells the story of Mary (rather than Matthew who tells Joseph’s story) as she receives the news that she will bear God’s child. Rather than Matthew’s spiritualized beatitudes, Luke’s beatitudes focus on physical needs: Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the thirsty. Luke tells the story of the Prodigal Son (Loving Father) and the Good Samaritan.
And Luke’s resurrection story is messy and chaotic. Matthew has Jesus meet the women. Mark has the women run away in fear. John has Jesus meet Matthew and then Thomas and then the disciples several times.
But the women only see the empty tomb and then rush back to the disciples only to be disbelieved.
It makes sense. All along the way, Luke tells the stories of people who are struggling, who don’t have it together, who make mistakes, who are victims of life, who are often overlooked by the powerful.
And Luke’s Easter is no different. It is messy and real and still connected to the real problems of our world. Just as Jesus has been throughout.
And maybe that is the reminder that we need, that I need. An Easter where our only concern is how nice we can make our Holy Week experience is a blessing. But Easter that comes to us with all the messy and hard parts of life, with all the struggles and failures and suffering that are a part of things right now… Well that is how the first Easter was. And why we need Easter in the first place.
So despite all the things Holy Week and Easter won’t be this year, and all the things I wish it could be….
Easter and the Risen Christ will be all that we need.