No matter how late I wait to write and submit this reflection, I won’t have a clue as to how I or anybody else experienced Easter. That was yesterday in our real time, or even the night before. For me, it is still Holy Week. We are still sheltering in place, still living our long Lent. But without the Cross there is no Resurrection. Something we are learning anew this year as we struggle to maintain something we call normal. Some parishes have tried to enact Holy Week and Easter services at home, and suggested some home remedies. Marching around the living room with a palm, or whatever you could find. How did that go? Washing the feet of those in the house with you (my cats are going to love that). Probably the best use of all those weird experiences would be some private reflection. What worked? What did you say worked to be friendly, but deep in your heart they just felt silly and forced? Our learning curve probably looks like the steep curve of the COVID-19 virus. Now it is Eastertide. But there was no kindling of the new fire, hopefully from a spark from a flint, and lighting the flame of the Paschal candle. And no deacon proclaiming to the people the Exsultet, calling all to Easter. No cries of “The Light of Christ,” “Thanks be to God.” No telling of our Salvation history, and telling all of it, neither shortened to appease the lack of the modern attention span, nor with modern poetry substitutions, yielding to today’s cultural demands. It is our story. Told the way our Jewish sisters and brothers recite the Haggadah at Passover to recall their freedom. And we share part of it with them, and we then we add our story of freedom. And no renewal of our Baptismal Vows, and no incense, and no fragrance of the Chrism, and no baptisms. No new Christians made, washing them with blessed Living Water in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Sealing them with water and the Holy Spirit as Christ’s own forever. And no sweet reception of the Body and Blood, the Bread and Wine. But no matter. Jesus rose. Everything else is extra.
But one thing I will miss when this is over. The dozens, hundreds, of broadcasts of services from all over, from all the people I know and follow, the very visual and visceral proof that we are all praying together. Sunday. Daily Prayer. Sermons and meditations. The Word of God proclaimed everywhere. For a few short weeks we were thrust out of My Parish, My Church, My Priest, Our Customary. For a few short weeks we were forced to be part of God’s Holy Church everywhere.
In this Lenten-Eastertide we can continue to grow to understand ourselves and our Church. Perhaps holding up Salvation history to our own lives is a good place to start. Do what St. Ignatius Loyola taught. Put yourself in the story. Put yourself in the place of those in the story. Talk to them. Ask questions. Listen for their answers. In the reading from Exodus the Lord tells his people that they will remember this day, and shall make unleavened bread in haste. In Mark (the shorter and probably older ending) the women run away. The Jewish people taken from the land of garlic and onions on the promise of a land of milk and honey, with a desert before them and hardtack to eat, but with faith and obedience. Except, of course, when they were dying, literally dying, of thirst, at Meribah and they beg Moses to intercede, and he strikes a rock at God’s command and the first Water of Life pours out. And they have never been forgiven for their impatience, or allowed to forget it. The women in Mark are charged by the angelic young man to tell the hiding frightened Apostles that Jesus had risen. But they run away and tell no one for fear.
The reading from Exodus (12:14-27), the initiation of the rites of Passover, certainly reads like a directive from the CDC. With the sudden shortage of yeast, very few of us have the makings of leaven in our house. Even wild yeast for a sourdough starter is probably scarce in our over-sanitized homes. The Lord commands, “no work shall be done on those days; only what everyone must eat, that alone may be prepared by you (Ex 12:16b).” Then Moses directs that each household shall take and slaughter a sacrificial lamb, collect its blood, and “touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down (Ex 12:22b-23).” It is not the Egyptians, but those who go out risk being struck down, unfortunately today that includes not only the arrogant who think they can beat the odds, but those who serve the rest of us – medical workers, first responders, critical workers – and perhaps die for us. Not blood on our lintels but a shut door as we remain sheltered from the destroyer who arrives not in the breath of God, but in the breath of droplets which carry the virus that can kill. And perhaps we need most of all to remember that spared or not, “the people bowed down and worshipped (Ex 12:27b).”
Mark 16:1-8 is more problematic. Ordered to spread the word, the women who come to anoint the body of their Lord fail, as they disobey the messenger from the Lord. In the longer ending, which we shall read tomorrow, Mary Magdalene does go and report to Peter and the others, but is not believed. And two walking in the country see Jesus, a reference perhaps to the two on their way to Emmaus in Luke. And again from Luke, the ascension. But in this time of pandemic, perhaps it is worth stopping here, with the women fleeing in fear. Mark is probably the earliest of the four canonical Gospels, written around the time of a Jewish revolt in Judea (70 CE) and the persecution of the Christians by Nero in Rome. Fear was in the air. As it is today. The pandemic, the confinement, the food shortages of basics – flour, onions, beans, potatoes – have stripped us of our false belief that we are free to move, to buy, to indulge. And in the background, politics of greed looming. The women expected to come to the tomb to do an ordinary service, but something unexpected happened. Did we expect to go to church and do the usual familiar liturgies, but something unexpected happened? And we couldn’t wrap our heads around it? Have we run in fear? Listen to the angel. Do not be amazed. He is risen. He is here, with us, and we are truly free.
In our grief for our lost ones, our fear for the stricken, our concern for those who serve, we cannot forget that we are a sanctified people, loved, saved. As we are taught in Romans (8:38 NLT), “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.