There’s a bittersweet mood taking hold this Holy Saturday morning. Outside, the streets are almost bare, the shelfs are almost empty, and the news has us in a flurry of wondering what might happen next. Inside, we’re tired of the same walls staring back at us, our eyes strained from screens that keep our minds busy and free from the worry that seems to creep all around us. On top of this, for those who call themselves Christians, we mourn the loss of gathering for the central holiday – holy day – in our faith.
On the news, some stand defiant against the restrictions placed upon our gatherings, calling it a violation of religious freedom. The same sentiments begin springing up on social media, suspicious of the motives of government to reach into our religious practices and place (in their mind) unnecessary limitations on us. For our entire lives, we’ve put on our best pastels and Easter dresses and made our way to the Church building for a celebration of the resurrection. Even those who rarely attend seem to find their way there on this day. Thinking back, some of the most significant and memorable moments of life within the Church happened on these days – meals, baptisms, egg hunts, songs, laughter, and tears. They are holy moments.
So in this sentiment, I understand the frustration of those who want to gather, in spite of the restrictions that the coronavirus pandemic has placed upon us. But we find ourselves in a time of competing values – not on choosing between what is bad and good, but choosing what is better is spite of the alternative being good. Gathering for Easter is holy, but yet it’s value stands up against something else that is infinitely valuable and deeply holy: God’s image-bearers. Human beings. Our neighbors. Us.
So in choosing not to gather for Easter, we are not devaluing its significance. We are simply choosing what God Himself finds more valuable: people. We’re preventing our neighbors and ourselves from spreading this virus even further. Frustratingly, it’s been documented that church gatherings across the world have been one of the primary means that the virus has spread. With this in mind, we choose to protect what God finds most valuable. In honoring our neighbors, we honor God.
Does it mean we don’t value gathering for worship? Not in the least. I do not exaggerate in saying that I ache to gather with my brothers and sisters and sing at the top of my lungs. I long for communion shared at the Lord’s Table. And because it’s the Lord’s Table, I’m going to trust that the Lord Himself knows when and how we’ll gather around it again. Until then, we wait. We’ll wake up on Easter morning, turn our computers or phones or TV’s on to the Easter gathering online, and we’ll muster the best bit of worship we can together. It is Easter – but it’s Easter when no one is watching.
And this, I’ve found, may be the heart of the struggle. I’ve come to associate places with my devotion – surroundings and settings that are set apart for singing and experiencing God. This is not a bad thing. We all have environments we’ve come to see as holy: dark rooms with lights and fog machines, bright cathedrals lit up by stained glass windows, or community rooms with folding chairs and simple songs. For the ancient Jews, the Temple held this significance. Place is important. Where we are – and who we are with – form a sacred space for our hearts to be open to God.
The downside, however, is that we often fall into the trap of the sacred/secular divide. There are holy places… and then just normal places. And if you’re anything like me, your home has always been just… well, normal. Sure, I know I can meet with God here, but my couch can’t compete with the bright stage of that giant worship center down the road. And it’s hard to sit silently in prayer while there’s milk spilled on the floor and the Disney Channel blaring in the background. Life at home is unrelentingly normal and unimpressive. For the most part, it’s the place we’ve rested and gotten ready to go out into the real stuff of life. It’s been a rest stop, not a destination.
But in this season, our homes have become our temples. There are our sacred spaces, the place where God longs to meet with us. As far as I can see it, we have a choice: we can continue to operate in spiritual limbo, waiting for God to take us back to where he ‘really is’ out there…. or we can learn to see the normal, everyday spaces of our lives as the holy ground on which God intends to meet us. The Bible makes it clear that God doesn’t dwell in a temple or church building, but rather that we ourselves – you, me – are the temple of God’s presence right where we are. Incredibly, we can be assured that God is always present and at work in our lives, even – no, especially at home.
So you may not see it, but that apartment balcony is the altar of God. That walk around the sidewalks of your neighborhood is a holy pilgrimage of prayer. Those screaming kids are your discipleship group. That modest meal by yourself is shared, somehow by God’s grace, by others, across the city. The dinner table is the communion table. That awkward conversation on Zoom or FaceTime is the communion of the saints – the passing of the peace. And for now, that screen on Sunday morning is the place where you gather with the people of God for Scripture and song. It’s always been holy. We’re just getting the chance to see it for the first time.
Tomorrow morning, we get Easter with no one watching. By God’s grace, it will be the last where we have to worship apart. But for now, the resurrection will take root right in the middle of your home – if you let it. The wall between the secular and the sacred has collapsed in upon itself. As the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning said,
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
Your home, your apartment, wherever you are – it is crammed with heaven. Do you believe this? You have everything you need to experience the resurrected King Jesus right where you are. This Easter is different, but it is no less sacred. What we do with this truth depends on us. He is risen, family. Let’s live this hope where we are until the day we can meet again.