Not a Cold and Broken Hallelujah

As a person of a particular faith for whom Easter is extremely important, and as a pastor of people in a particular faith for whom Easter is extremely important, I admittedly had a great deal of trepidation about this Easter 2020. For us, the resurrection of Jesus, the One whom Death could not hold, is the center of our faith. The Deathly powers of evil, of insatiable greed, of power-grabbing, and power-over just couldn’t win. That’s what keeps me in this thing called Christianity, for all of its downsides.

And so, Easter, just isn’t lip-service for me. It’s my center, my hope, and the thing that I rest my career and vocation on. It’s also generally the busiest week in a pastor’s year.

So, you can then begin to see my nervousness this year. How would we do Easter? How would we be able to celebrate the most precious part of our faith while separated, over a screen? How would we wash each other’s feet on Maundy Thursday? How would we sing “the light of Christ, thanks be to God” as we kept vigil for Easter? These questions lingered in my mind.

Many Christians don’t say “alleluia” during Lent. We bury the alleluias and we don’t say this special word until Easter. As I was preparing for the strangeness of a completely online Holy Week and Easter, I wondered if our alleluias, when they emerged on Easter, would be cold and broken?

It’s been feeling a little cold and broken lately, with all this fear and death around. I was hit especially hard by John Prine’s death. ……..

And then Holy Week began… with Palm Sunday where we waved branches of Tennessee’s native botany instead of palm branches that we would nC01A4A32-DCF8-4906-8F0F-F74EE7311EF7ever see in Tennessee unless they were imported. Daily pastoral reflections on the lectionary texts were centering and inspiring. Maundy Thursday brought forth a Zoom call with our congregants sitting around their dinner tables. As we said liturgy and ate together over screens, we sang The Servant’s Song:

“I will hold the Christlight for you in the night-time of your fear. I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.”

And then Good Friday brought a solemn centering that asked What Wondrous Love is This? On Facebook Live on Easter’s dawn, we did an Easter Vigil service from my living room as we kept vigil for Easter’s light. It was holy and we were connected to our early church ancestors.

We had a skeleton crew in the sanctuary for our Easter service … just enough to record the service. And as I sat on the altar, listening to a large, full organ prelude, I felt the organ’s vibrations in every cell in my body. And then, the smell of lilies on the altar wafted over…. and tears came to my eyes… I could barely get up to do the welcome.

I got up, looked into the camera, and together, our congregation said the opening words of the service: “Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!”

These ancient words are the words of Mary, our first preacher of the Gospel, as she left the Garden after having been the first to see the risen Jesus.

The lone trumpet filled the empty sanctuary as we sang Christ the Lord is Risen Today and the pastors processed in the cross, the alleluia banner, and the scriptures.

And I begin to realize in a deep way, that our alleluias weren’t cold and broken at all. Though those kinds of alleluias are still faithful and resilient.

But our alleluias this Easter morning were different- they were full, robust, and sure. We needed Good News and we had it, and nothing, not even a novel virus, could damper our proclamations of hope.

This is not the Easter I would have ever imagined, but it is the Easter that I desperately needed.

I’ll never forget it.

Thanks be to God.