Today is Easter, the holiest day in the Christian faith, a day celebrated by billions around the world as the day that God gave himself for the sins of the world. As a Christian, born and raised in the faith, Easter has always been a big part of my life. I remember grudgingly waking up super early as a kid, when it was still dark and cool outside, and dressing in my best Sunday clothes that Mom had ironed and pressed the night before. We would pile into Granddaddy and Nanny’s silver Pontiac Parisienne, a steel land yacht that seemed to stretch for a mile and a half, and make our way down the little one lane dirt road to “the highway” and then on to the small brick church where the Presbyterians in our small farming community gathered. We’d stand outside in the cold, shivering, as our preacher, Dr. Dawes Graybeal, read passages from the Bible about the women who went to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty. Now, as an adult, I see that same wonder and amazement on my kids’ faces when they hear those same verses.
Easter has always been a holiday that centers around hope, rebirth, and the comfort that is found through perseverance through suffering. And today, perhaps more than any time in the last two thousand years, the world NEEDS that message. But in the past few days and weeks I’ve seen more people talking about where we are worshipping rather than what we are worshipping, and that is a problem.
Easter in the time of COVID-19 is not what we’re used to. There is no gathering at the church for many of us this morning, no sunrise worship, no packed pews and full parking lots. For most Christians today, especially in the US, we are at home with our families this morning, and it doesn’t feel quite right. This isn’t what we’re used to, and it isn’t what we remember from our childhood. But for me, at least, it is a small price to pay given the very real risk that COVID-19 poses for the elderly in our community given the fact that a good number of the members of my home church are squarely in that at-risk category. And, honestly, when I think about the discomfort and disappointment that Christ endured for the church, for the world, for me personally, it becomes even more difficult to complain about sitting in my living room, in the comfort of my pajamas, while I watch Easter service broadcast over the internet.
I’m also reminded of something that I think the church today has largely lost sight of, and that is the fact that the church itself is NOT the brick and mortar of the buildings in which we gather. The church is not a building with soaring ceilings or beautifully colorful stained glass windows. The church is not the pews or the pulpit. The church is the people in whom Christ dwells, the believers themselves who are gathered together today around the world in spirit, if not in person.
We are reminded again and again in the Bible that we are “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5). We are not bricks molded and shaped by the hands of mankind to be one like another, but we are living stones shaped by the will and the hand of God himself to fit together and build the church in the world. Teachers are called to care for the church of God as a shepherd cares for a flock of sheep (Acts 20:28). In fact, throughout the New Testament the church is spoken about in terms of the people who comprise it, not as a physical location or building which we must enter.
And finally, what I consider one of the most powerful scriptures in all of the Bible, Matthew 18:20, tells us, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I also.” We can gather in the church’s pews, in our Sunday school classes, in the grocery store, in the streets, or through FB live, Zoom, or some other digital meeting place. The where is not important to God, and it shouldn’t be important to us either. What matters is that we are gathered together in spirit and in faith. We are gathered together in our love and our worship of God.
And today, Easter, we are gathered together in the awe and wonder of the empty tomb, the love for each individual person the world over that manifested itself in the person, the life, the teachings, and finally, the sacrifice of Jesus himself. And wherever two of us are gathered in His name, He is there also. That’s just as true when we are sitting in our living rooms social distancing ourselves as it is when we are sitting in the church pews.
Remember as we celebrate today that even though we may be doing things differently, we are not alone. So Happy Easter to all of my fellow Christians and to non-Christians around the world.