The Resurrection of Our Lord, the Principal Festival of the church, celebrated most joyously on the night of the Great Vigil of Easter, a two thousand year expansion of the event that brought the first Christians together every Sunday to celebrate a “little Easter”, is the single most important day in the entire liturgical year. No other gathering for worship is as highly celebrated as the Resurrection of Our Lord.
The conclusion of the Triduum, the Three Days, itself the high point of the most sacred days of the year of Holy Week, Easter worship is the one time when any Christian who has not attended communal worship all year should attend. It is that central to our worship life and faith. I cannot stress enough how deeply important the Resurrection of Our Lord is for Christians all around the world. Many of us would move mountains on that day, if we could, to worship together.
And yet, this year, when the Resurrection of Our Lord is scheduled to be celebrated in the churches of the Western branch of Christianity by a very complex formula (12 April this year), I and my community of faith will not be physically gathering together to celebrate it.
At this time, this is not a “maybe”. Based on the current opinion of the most qualified medical experts in the country, my community will not be celebrating the Resurrection of Our Lord in person on 12 April 2020. It would not only be irresponsible, but it would jeopardize the health and safety of my siblings in Christ. It would expose us to the risk of widespread infection that would lead to death for some. It would be a direct violation of the charge given to me when I was ordained, to “care for God’s people, bear their burdens, and do not betray their confidences” because it would be asking them to needlessly risk their lives for the sake of a tradition. It would do exactly what I’ve been charged not to do, give “false security or illusory hope” that we no longer need to take precautions to keep ourselves alive.
My stance runs contrary to that of the President of the United States, Donald Trump, who announced his intention to have the country (and, more importantly, the economy) fully open and operating in the status quo by Easter. In an interview with Bill Hemmer, Mr. Trump asks, “Wouldn’t it be great to have all the churches full” at Easter?
No. No it would not be great to have all the churches full. Not while medical experts advise that such gatherings have the potential for devastating and deadly consequences. Not while doing so risks exposing the most vulnerable members of our community to a deadly virus.
“I think it would be a beautiful time.”
No. No it would not be a beautiful time. It would be a senseless tragedy.
The Resurrection of Our Lord is a celebration of the passing of Christ Jesus from crucifixion to life–death to resurrection. It is a celebration of new life and a reminder to Christians of the promise given to us at our baptisms–that we who are baptized into Christ’s death are buried with him so that we will also share in his resurrection and new life.
But to gather together in person on 12 April 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic has reached a point where it is safe to do so, would be a movement in the opposite direction–a direction from resurrection to death. It would kill people.
It would kill people for the sake of money.
It would kill people for the sake of global clout.
It would kill people for political points.
It would kill people to bolster a re-election campaign.
There are many good reasons to die. Money, nationalism, politics, and elections are not any of those reasons. To ask Christians to march into our places of worship and celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord when it is not safe to do so, not for our benefit, but for one’s own personal gratification and ego, is to throw us into the Diocletian chains and strap us to the bombs of St. George’s and St. Mark’s. It is to tell us that our deaths are acceptable if they get the stock market back on track to deposit treasures into the overstuffed coffers of the rich.
I will not have it.
If the medical experts trying to keep us safe and alive agree that churches can gather to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord on its appointed day in ways that will not risk serious illness or death spreading through our community, than I will happily throw open the doors, sound the tuba (who needs a trumpet when you have a tuba?), and dance down the steps to draw in the struggling masses who yearn for the closeness of the Christian community. I will celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord with gratitude and excitement far exceeding that of previous years, when I could take the celebration for granted.
But I will not sacrifice my community on an altar to the gods of Market, Economics, and Politics.