Keeping Vigil

Easter Vigil looks a little different for us tonight, like so many things.

This is what our Good Friday service looked like, and our Easter morning service will look pretty similar.

I’ve been asking myself, how are we going to celebrate this Easter? In the previous few weeks, I’ve wondered, how can we observe our most high and holy holiday, our happiest day of the year, during this season of doubt and distress and uncertainty? Ever since college, I have never gone home for Easter break because I wanted to be with the community with whom I have traveled through Lent. How can we celebrate a festival that is so about a communal journey… without the community? In short, how are we supposed to be happy?

Lent has always been easier for me to observe than Easter, since long before this year. Lent resonates with my present experience. Lent feels like a deep breath, a relief: I’m allowed to be broken, to feel guilty, to mourn the state of things. I don’t have to have it all together. Easter, as much as I look forward to it, tends to feel a little… forced. Maybe more so as a pastor and a parent, since it’s our job to make high feasts special for others, even when we’re tired out from the effort.

What has occurred to me recently is that there is a fundamental difference between how we observe these two seasons. Lent we observe out of the reality of our present experience; Easter we celebrate in hope. As much as Easter is a day of celebration of something that happened in the past, as a work that is completed and need never be repeated, it’s not like we’re saying the world is all fixed now. As Hebrews 2:8 says, God put everything under Jesus’ authority, but “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” As we like to talk about in seminary, we’re in a season of already and not yet.

When we celebrate Easter, we celebrate in hope. In expectation. Celebration is a spiritual discipline because it takes faith. Suffering Christians around the world have known this for a long time, but in this pandemic moment, it has come home to me in a new way.

How can we celebrate Easter during the coronavirus? Because the coronavirus puts in bold print the entire point of Easter. Our hope is not in the present. Not in jobs or stuff or financial peace or health or science. Those things are great, but we can’t trust them to save us. Our hope is not in this life. Our hope is in eternity with God, which is entirely made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

I’m not talking about being so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. I’m talking about not living in fear of losing your life. I’m talking about true and lasting comfort when things look bleak. Freedom from fear and hope for the future is strength in the present to love and serve each other. I’m talking about being right with God, and getting access to the Holy Spirit for a very present help in trouble.

Tonight, I’m not singing the exultet or lighting candles. I’m curled up in a chair with my laptop, arranging a powerpoint presentation. I’m putting Easter hymns in two languages in large print, so I can arrange them on our makeshift music stand (made out of a recipe holder on top of a pile of books) for display during our livestream.

Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my saviour!
Vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord.

“Low in the Grave he Lay” by Robert Lowry

As I sit here reading the words of old Easter hymns, I’m looking forward to singing them tomorrow more than I ever have before. Sing your Alleluias loud. Put your faith in the risen Jesus, and your resurrection is coming too.


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