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‘We are never alone’

Nine pastors reflect on Easter in the shadow of the coronavirus

‘We are never alone’

Nine pastors reflect on Easter in the shadow of the coronavirus
St. Mary's Catholic Church in Petersville, Md., on March 22. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
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This Sunday, millions across the United States will celebrate Easter without dear friends, beloved family and, unimaginably, church services. For many, the centerpiece of the day is hearing reflections on the story of the first Easter. To help fill this void, a group of pastors shared their thoughts on Easter in the time of coronavirus — abbreviated versions of what would be fuller sermons in more normal times.

It feels like winter — but Easter is happening anyway

By Michael Curry

I’m 67 years old. I’ve been in church somewhere on every Easter Sunday since birth. But this Easter doesn’t look or feel like Easter. No crosses adorned with flowers by children from Sunday School. No children dressed in new clothes for Easter Day. No crying babies packed next to their grandparents in the pews. Outside, it may look like spring, but inside the church, it looks like bleak winter.

On a Sunday a couple thousand years ago, it didn’t look like Easter, either. The stench of death was in the air. No lilies, no bunnies, no new clothes — just a brutal execution by the Empire of Rome of One who taught and lived love.

It was Mary Magdalene and some of the other female disciples of Jesus who got up early that Sunday. They went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried just a few days before. You can’t change the fact of death. But you can love through it. So they went to do what love does.

The Most Rev Bishop Michael Curry, primate of the Episcopal Church, gives an address during the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. (Owen Humphreys/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

They went to give Jesus a proper burial, to anoint his body with fragrant oils and make sure he was in a clean linen burial shroud. But when they arrived, nothing was as it was supposed to be. The large stone that had been placed over the entrance to the rock-hewn tomb had been moved. The body of Jesus was gone.

“They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him,” blurted out Mary Magdalene. She was the first witness to Easter, but she didn’t know it was Easter. Only later would she discover that the empty tomb was a sign of hope. Jesus was alive.

Today, it doesn’t look or feel like Easter for us, either. But maybe our empty churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and other places of worship — and even stadiums and stores and coffee shops — are actually signs of hope. Maybe love is winning again. Love for neighbor that is strong enough to sacrifice our important gatherings. Love that gives up our cherished celebrations to save lives — the lives of other children of God whom we don’t even know.

Maybe these empty places are, in fact, a reminder — a reminder that, though it doesn’t look like it, it is Easter anyway.

Michael Curry is presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church.

This Easter, I have already experienced a taste of the joy of the resurrection

By Timothy Cole

Rev. Timothy Cole, rector of Christ Church Georgetown, was the District’s first coronavirus patient. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

To be sick is to be forced to realize that you are not in control.

I was diagnosed with covid-19 and spent three weeks in intensive care and isolation waiting to see whether my body would heal. With this virus, particularly, doctors, along with patients and their families, are all made bystanders who can only wait and pray.

Throughout, though, I knew people were carrying me in their prayers and stepping up to lead when I could not. Sometimes, all you can do is let go and let God and other people bear the burden. That said, it is important to do what you can and, when I could, I said my prayers and walked up and down my hospital room to stay strong.

This virus has made us all powerless and frightened to some degree. Fear of sickness, fear of loss of livelihood and huge uncertainty are all around us.

A bright light against the darkness of this fear is the way communities such as Christ Church have responded. Flowerings of connection, affection and care are everywhere, and I know that we are a stronger community now than we were before. It is hard to be afraid when so many are standing by your side.

My prayer is that this deeper strength and connection will be so for all our communities — both in this city and across our great country when this virus is done.

This Easter, I feel I have already experienced a taste of the joy of the resurrection. When I came out of the darkness of the hospital into the Washington sunshine, it was like stepping from a black-and-white movie into a full-color one.

May you all experience that new life for yourselves in whatever you face, and may the world soon see the end of this terrible virus and the restoration of our common life. Today is God’s promise that that day will come.

Timothy Cole is the rector of Christ Church Georgetown in Washington.

I lost a brother. But death is no longer the end.

By Larry Dunham

Loss is all I can sense, feel, touch, smell or see this Easter. It is even in my home, the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land — where my Franciscan brother John Sebastian Laird-Hammond was the first confirmed coronavirus fatality in the District of Columbia.

So where are the joy and hope of Easter? In my own darkness, I think of those two disciples, Peter and John, who hastened to the tomb at the words of the women who reported the body of Jesus was missing. I think of the darkness they would have seen that early morning, and the darkness of their grief over the death of Jesus. It would have been a darkness of incomprehensible weight, much like the darkness at the very beginning of Genesis, before the first day was created.

And then a voice whispers in my soul that maybe what is happening now is no less than the dawning of the first day of a new creation. The Spirit that hovered over the waters in Genesis, the voice tells me, is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead — the same Spirit that lifts up Brother Sebastian, lifts up those whose lives have been cruelly touched by covid-19, lifts up all of us. Death is no longer the end, the voice keeps whispering to me. Loss can and will be overcome.

And pondering that thought, my sense of loss begins to fade into hope — and, yes, even stirs the tiniest ember of joy.

Larry Dunham is a Catholic priest and president of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America in Washington.

The cross doesn’t obviate suffering but calls us to respond with perfumes of consolation

By Gabriel Salguero

“While it was yet dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb,” we learn in the Gospel of John. “Yet dark” is an apt description for what we are living through in the age of covid-19, amid so much fear and sorrow.

The first Easter is a reminder that many of us come to our morning of hope through our own dark Via Dolorosa — way of suffering. We remember that the first disciples were filled with anxiety, living under the shadow of death and forced to “quarantine” to preserve their lives.

The resurrection does not obviate the cross of Christ or human suffering. Instead, the resurrection calls us to acknowledge the suffering and then to respond with perfumes of consolation. Easter, after all, is a time to show love and human solidarity. And although this crisis may require our presence to be virtual, it is no less important.

We console with prayers and intercession for those living with the coronavirus, and for those who have lost a loved one. We respond through our prayers of protection for doctors, nurses and first responders, as well as truck drivers and farmers who provide us with nourishment. We offer solidarity by praying and advocating for the elderly, the incarcerated, immigrants and refugees who may be forgotten during times of crisis.

Mary Magdalene realized the glory and peace of the resurrection only because she first dared to face the suffering of the tomb. What gives us license to celebrate life is the fact that we have first learned to mourn. This Easter, we remember that hope does not ignore fear, lament, pain or sorrow. It does remind us that they will not have the last word.

Gabriel Salguero is pastor at Calvario City Church in Orlando and is the president and founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.

America is suffering from a spiritual virus. The good news of Easter is that we have a vaccine.

By Otis Moss III

America is infected by a virus that has changed life for millions. This infection does not respect borders, gender, racial difference or income level. Anyone can get this virus and transmit it to others.

Epidemiologists understand how covid-19 affects the lungs. But the infection I am speaking of directly attacks the heart, reducing its capacity to pump compassion, courage, mercy, justice, humility and forgiveness.

This virus has many names. Prejudice. Immorality. Hegemony. But all can be traced to the same pathogen, better known as sin.

How is this virus carried? It is transmitted when people of faith speak simultaneously with arrogance and ignorance. When people sing hymns on Sunday and dump stocks on Monday, because they are worried more about their financial portfolios than human lives. When people shout “praise the Lord” while dismantling health care. When people quote scripture while making it difficult for men and women to get food stamps to feed their children.

But today is a day for good news, and that news is this: There is a vaccine for a nation infected with this virus. The scripture states: Loose the chains of injustice; set the oppressed free; share your food with the hungry; share your shelter with the poor; give your clothes to the naked. Only then will healing appear. Scripture tells us that if we live with compassion and do the work of justice, then we will see God’s light break forth like the dawn.

“Where,” I hear some asking, “will we see the dawn breaking?” It is Easter, and we are seeing glimmers already. In New York, where a large landowner refused to collect rent. On Broadway, where costume designers are now making masks for health-care providers. Outside Chicago, where a small vodka distillery switched from making alcohol to hand sanitizer.

Eventually, the full dawn will break. Our children’s children will sing with power that there lived a people who were unafraid to face a pandemic and who confronted it not with fear but compassion; not with cynicism but faith; not with predatory self-interest but justice; not with hate but love.

Otis Moss III is senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Our current moment feels apocalyptic — but so was the first Easter

By Paula White-Cain

President Trump listens as Pastor Paula White-Cain leads a prayer at a dinner celebrating evangelical leadership at the White House in 2018. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

In normal times, churches across the world would be gathering to celebrate this Holy Week. These are not normal times.

Some have called the dark hour we face “apocalyptic.” In the popular imagination, this stirs images of societal breakdown, infrastructural collapse and natural disaster. But theologians know that the word “apocalypse” means “revelation.” At the end of the cataclysm is something new, something revealed to be better, longer-lasting and full of life.

The origin of Easter itself was apocalyptic. What preceded the first Easter Sunday was a time of bloodshed, tragedy and heartbreak — Judas’s betrayal, Peter’s denial, Mary’s tears at the feet of her crucified son. But out of a terrible series of events came the revealing of God’s great plan for humanity. Out of immense suffering came the greatest hope.

The covid-19 crisis, too, has brought untold stories of heartbreak. But we must also recognize the stories of hope — the unprecedented acts of kindness and love that reflect Jesus’ own ministry. In the era of covid-19, Easter reminds us that this tragic period will come to an end and give life to something new. Easter is special because it reminds us that death — even on the scale we are seeing now — is the overture, not the coda.

Is there a moment when Easter could be more relevant?

Paula White-Cain is the president of Paula White Ministries, headquartered in Apopka, Fla., and a spiritual adviser to President Trump.

After the coronavirus, I approach Easter with newfound gratitude

By Kenny Baldwin

Last week, I lay in hospital isolation fighting for my life, sick with covid-19. Shaking from fever, aching from head to toe, gasping between every word, I had never experienced anything like this. An infectious disease specialist said it was “a flip of a coin” which way I would go. The prospect of death stared me in the face.

On the very first Easter, Jesus rose from the dead, conquering Satan and crushing death forever. That is why we celebrate. That is the power of the resurrection.

As I lay in the hospital, I needed resurrection power personally. So I begged God for a chance to live. People around the world prayed in the name of a living savior. Ten days later, 25 pounds lighter and a much better man, I walked out of that hospital. Some said I was lucky, but I knew better. God wasn’t done with me yet.

This year, churches are closed, but the message of Easter — that with faith in Christ there lies a power that can lift up all humanity — remains as important as ever. And I approach it with a renewed gratitude for all I’ve been given this year — and for the knowledge that all of us, no matter where we are, need never be without hope.

Kenny Baldwin is the pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church in Baileys Crossroads, Va.

What if God is shaking our foundations out of love?

By J.D. Greear

There is an old story about a lumberjack preparing to cut trees in a mountain forest. As he began, he noticed a beautiful bird building its nest atop one of the trees. Not wanting to harm the bird, the lumberjack took a mallet and pounded on the tree until the bird flew to another nearby. The bird and the lumberjack repeated this dance a half-dozen times, until the bird abandoned the forest altogether and built its nest on the side of the rock face.

I imagine the bird never understood why the lumberjack was systematically attacking its shelters. But his motive, of course, was compassion. He knew every tree in the forest was about to come down. He wanted the bird to build in its nest in a place where axes couldn’t touch it.

I suspect many of us feel like that bird right now. Our world has been shaken at its foundations. Things we’ve taken for granted — our health, our jobs, the stock market, the security of loved ones, the ability to go and do what we please — have crumbled. Perhaps we wonder where the love of God is in this.

What if God, in love, was attacking foundations that will eventually crumble anyway to move us to one that never will?

Scripture tells us that when Christ died on the cross, he was being judged in our place, paying the penalty for our sins so we didn’t have to. The resurrection is his offer of new life. This Easter, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we celebrate — because death is but one temporary transition point, like the bird’s trees. Our true rock of refuge is in the gloriously happy eternity God has in store for his children.

J.D. Greear is pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

This Easter, we remember that, even in the worst of our suffering, we are never alone

By Robert Barron

Bishop Robert Barron. (Word on Fire/Courtesy Word on Fire)

In the midst of extraordinary suffering, we celebrate the feast, par excellence, of life, of hope, of resurrection. Wouldn’t it be better to postpone until our situation looks a tad brighter?

No — because it is precisely now when the meaning of Easter shines forth most clearly. At the very heart of Christian faith is the conviction that the Father sent the Son into our human condition — which means into matter, finitude, sickness and fear. The downward journey of the Son of God, even to the very limits of godforsakenness, is the richest possible expression of God’s solidarity with every one of us who suffers. Into all the dark corners of our human experience, God’s mercy has come.

But the work of God did not end with the cross. Christ’s resurrection three days later proves that God’s love is more powerful than anything that is in the world. This is why Christians have, from the beginning, held up the cross — the most terrifying symbol in antiquity — as a kind of taunt. “You think that scares us? God’s grace is more powerful!”

And so today, we may ask: What can I do, right here and right now, to embody the divine love and provide hope? We can imitate Christ by going precisely to the darkest places — all the way down to the lonely, the abandoned, the fearful, the sick, to those who feel most alienated from God. To all of these people, we declare the victory of Jesus’ resurrection.

Therefore, look around! Today, there seems to be darkness and suffering everywhere. That just means plenty of opportunities to love.

Robert Barron is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

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