I’m swaying in a rocking chair in front of my laptop, which rests on a glass-topped side table that has traditionally served as a nightstand but is now serving as my makeshift desk. My husband sits in a neighboring room, preparing to embark on a morning of distance-learning, or crisis-schooling, or whatever we’re calling this season of attempting to educate our typically-schooled boys from home.
If you were to ask me how I’m doing today, “we’re fine” would tumble out of my mouth without much pause. And really, we are. We live with my husband’s parents right now, which renders us in no danger of losing shelter. We have food, necessities, technology that enables us to access online learning and all manner of streaming services, and a collection of books and board games that resembles a Y2K prepper’s den of canned goods.
We’re also grieving, like everyone else in the United States, if not the world, right now.
Self-isolation began for our family during spring break, which means my children learned part-way through a week that was intended for fun that they didn’t know when, or if, they’d see their classmates or teachers again. Sporting events and trips to visit family members have been cancelled. Instead, we try to get as much connection out of Zoom and FaceTime as we can. Sometimes this works, and other times these digital threads leave us underwhelmed, as though we’re seeing community in a mirror dimly and it’s almost more painful than not seeing it at all.
I have a hunch that “attending” our church’s online Easter service will feel very much the same—like it’s beautiful, and like technology is a gift, and like it’s heartbreaking not to proclaim that He is risen indeed in cacophonous harmony with the people next to us in the pew.
In some ways, it’s easier to access the tone and feelings of Good Friday right now than those of Easter. Separation, loss, uncertainty, confusion about what we had before the darkness fell and what we will have after it lifts—these are things I have considered and felt every day since the pandemic began.
I know, of course, that I’m not alone in this. The Facebook posts of fellow parents indicate that they too are grappling with the tectonic shift in their family dynamics that now renders them parents, teachers, and counselors. Single friends who live alone tweet laments over the number of days it’s been since they felt the touch of another person, and the dread of not knowing how long it will be until they experience physical affection—or even just a handshake—again. People are dying alone, and we all know it, but, unless we are healthcare providers, seemingly the most we can do is stay as far away from others as possible so that more people don’t die alone.
When we’re free. This is how my children refer to the pandemic’s end. The phrase lands a bit dramatically on my adult ears that have heard stories of true captivity and bondage. But for them, it’s not theatrical, it’s realistic. They used to be free to go to school, to visit their cousins, to come along on a trip to the grocery store where they can sneak sugary cereal into the cart. The limitations they feel are real, and the hope they need is not a hope that dismisses their sense of loss but one that offers comfort when comfort seems locked away in its own quarantine, inaccessible to the hearts that need it.
Whether we’re a first-grader missing his teacher, a millennial suddenly met with job loss, or a pastor trying to shepherd his congregation from afar, one thing seems clear: we need the deep and wide hope of the resurrection in specific ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent poll by Gloo, a data platform that helps people, churches, and communities flourish, 34 percent of congregants say they need a message of hope from their churches right now; 27 percent say they need connection and community; and 21 percent need emotional support.
In the resurrection of Jesus at Easter, we find that message of hope. We find the invitation to connection and community, and we find the freedom to seek emotional support, if not the support itself. As pastors take to their pulpits, or their couches, this Sunday and preach to a state-of-the-art camera or an iPhone propped up on a coffee table, chances are high that they’ll collectively preach to the greatest number to have ever participated in an Easter service. People are hungry for encouragement, or they’re at least scrolling social media, willing to watch a few moments of a Facebook Live video. Who among us is equipped to offer this much needed hope to congregants and “visitors” on this unusual Easter Sunday?
Interestingly, it seems that pastors, in general, feel more hope right now than many of the rest of us. Gloo found that 51 percent of pastors see their congregants’ faith growing during the pandemic, which encourages their shepherds’ hearts. But while they recognize this growth, many pastors see the hope of their congregants steadily declining. So what does it look like to transfer the hope of a pastor to his people without dismissing the reality of lament at this time?
It may look quite simple, really. As we struggle to dedicate our attention due to a deluge of daily information, brains scattered by collective loss and trauma, or our children running around in circles, flashy entertainment and trite platitudes can’t possibly provide what our hearts crave this year. A pastor opening the text of the resurrection story—which only, only makes sense in light of the horror and sacrifice of the crucifixion—to tell us that not only do we have hope now because Jesus rose again, but we have hope for the future when we too will rise with Christ? Tears come to my eyes just imagining the look on so many preachers’ faces this Sunday as they gaze earnestly into a device and remind their congregants and digital visitors that, even in this, we can take heart, for Jesus Christ has overcome the world.
Pastors, I’m pulling for you this Sunday. Bring us your heart and your hope. We don’t need glitz or glamour. We don’t need to be distracted from our sadness. We need to know that you’re here for us as shepherds and friends. Tell us why you’re hopeful, tell us why you’re sad, tell us what the crucifixion and resurrection say about it all. As we look forward to seeing you in person again, dear leaders, remind us of the day we’ll see Jesus face-to-face, as well.
Abby Perry is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and two sons in Texas. You can find her work at Sojourners, Texas Monthly, and Nations Media.