As Christian churches open their doors today for Easter services, we are reminded of something from a year ago.
On Easter 2020, churches throughout the country were closed, shuttered because of a coronavirus that posed a then-undetermined threat. But, as Esau McCaulley, a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois, wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times: “The church’s absence, its literal emptying, can function as a symbol of its trust in God’s ability to meet us regardless of the location. The church remains the church whether gathered or scattered. It might also indirectly remind us of the gift of gathering that we too often take for granted.”
Many gifts have been counted over the past year, with COVID-19 changing our notion of what is “normal” and resulting in far too many deaths. And so, today’s arrival of Easter – the most holy day on the Christian calendar – is a particular cause for celebration.
With all counties in Washington under Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan, churches – and other public gathering spaces – are allowed to open at 50 percent capacity.
It is not ideal, but coronavirus still presents a hazard – even if that hazard is diminishing in scope. Yet it is a cause for reflection on a most difficult year and the progress that has been made.
For Christians, Easter is about providing hope – a message that endures through times of pestilence. The celebration is fueled by the belief that Jesus rose from the dead and provided the promise of everlasting life, and it is the oldest and most meaningful holiday, dating in the Catholic Church to the year 326.
For Jewish people, that hope is represented by the eight-day Passover celebration, which ends today. The celebration commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and is believed to have evolved from a festival that predates the Exodus.
As religion reporter Elizabeth Dias of The New York Times writes, “Religious ritual holds power not only because it connects people gathered in one space – it also connects people across time.”
For many, that connection is diminishing. A recent Gallup poll shows that the percentage of Americans who consider themselves members of a church, synagogue or mosque has fallen below 50 percent for the first time since the question initially was asked in 1937.
But being a formal member of particular church can be different from being a person of faith, and the power and influence of that faith remains strong. In recent years, a Pew Research Center survey found that 61 percent of adults in Washington self-identify as Christian.
We wish them an enjoyable and meaningful Easter celebration, and we hope that all Clark County residents – regardless of their personal beliefs – can embrace the message of peace and hope that can lift us all during difficult times.
That, perhaps, is the most meaningful aspect of this year’s Easter celebration. It is a continuation of traditions that have lasted for millennia, and it shall take place again today. It shall take place for many inside houses of worship, and for many others in isolated gatherings with family.
The occasion more closely resembles normalcy than last year’s celebration, yet it also is a reminder that normal gatherings and communal experiences remain in the future.
For Christians, the hope and faith of the season has weathered unprecedented times, ensuring that Easter 2021 will be a memorable one.