My church has been meeting remotely (via YouTube, along with other real-time gatherings throughout the week) the entire duration of the pandemic in the U.S. The first few months of “Couch Church,” most Sundays I’d set up my laptop, make a big breakfast, settle into the sofa with anticipation, and then…immediately feel a kind of hollow disappointment. There wasn’t anything wrong with the church’s services—they’ve actually done remarkably well adapting the warmth and radiance of our in-person gatherings to remote worship—but it reminded me starkly how much was different and wrong in the world, how much of my life and relationship was being mediated by devices: my phone, my laptop, my television.
Gradually that hollow disappointment gave way to something more like a till-we-meet-again contentedness, even as my hunger to be back in person together hasn’t diminished. Holy Week and Easter 2021 wound up being a strange microcosm of life in the slow, unpredictable, start-and-stop transition out of pandemic life, much like Holy Week last year was a strange microcosm of transition into pandemic life. Most everything happened via devices, which, frankly, blows; but I was grateful for the chance (hopefully the last chance) to “attend” services at so many different churches. (For my personal records: We streamed the Easter Vigil at Church of the Resurrection on Saturday night, and the Easter Sunday service at LaSalle.) I didn’t get to see any family or church family in person, which, frankly, blows; but I spent a lot of the weekend with my COVID “isolation pod,” including a lovely mid-day brunch on Easter and an early morning hike in the LaBagh Woods, a forest preserve in the city (and Hank’s first hike!). I was grateful for the reminder of the lifeline we’ve all been to each other this year.
A friend in ministry remarked that they found themselves longing for a kind of release from a pressure valve with Easter, one that doesn’t seem to come. I felt that, too. As much as I’ve tried to let go of the expectation of things returning to “normal,” what’s so difficult about this season is not knowing what, exactly, to let go of or what to try and start embracing. I think we’re each only beginning to understand all the different ways the massive trauma and sheer difference of the last year are affecting us in our bodies, our emotions, and even our perception of God. And I think that means it’s hard to know how to find relief and rest. So many of the things I used to do for rest—time alone, walks in the park, reading, watching films—are the things I just have too damn much of right now.
And still, still, still: Christ is risen, that’s what we said and sang all day on Sunday, and I’ll take good news wherever we can find it right now. A full year of death-awareness (memento mori-fatigue?) made it strangely hard for me to connect with any of the explicit language of resurrection on Easter, even as my pastor preached a slam-dunk sermon on the ways God’s death-reversal upends everything. If anything, for me the good news of Easter was God’s faithfulness to us: that God is faithful to us in our loneliness and longing. That God is faithful to us in the face of our betrayal and doubt and even our drowsy sloppiness. And that God is faithful to us even past the point of death, that death doesn’t interrupt God’s faithfulness, that rather than depart from us, God merely conquers death to stay close to us. Luke 24 finds a couple disciples walking on the road after Jesus’ death. Jesus—resurrected to life and unrecognizable to them—asks what they’re discussing. And the disciples “[stand] still, looking sad.” As if to say: “Where do we begin?” As if to say, “Sorry, are you going to make us recite everything awful that has happened?” As if to say: “We are waiting for the release of a pressure valve that doesn’t seem to come.” And Jesus walks with them in conversation, and slowly their hearts begin to burn, and slowly they find themselves resurrected, too.