Having grown up going to church and continuing to be an active church member, I’ve always spent the Easter season preparing, reading, serving, and celebrating. This year, however, thanks to COVID-CRUD, Mary Lee and I were Easter observers rather than participants, viewing from our living room, isolated in a bubble of congestion, coughing fits, and fatigue.
But it was not entirely unpleasant. Sitting on the couch with Mary Lee, watching the live-stream services from our church, I drifted in and out, my mind sometimes considering the computer screen, other times contemplating memories of other times, other Easters.
I’m eleven years old, waking Easter Sunday to the smell of shoe polish in the kitchen, where my father has lined the family’s good shoes on the counter and put the Kiwi to them. Jumping out of bed, my younger brother and sister and I search for bright yellow marshmallow Peeps Dad and Mom scattered through the house the night before. After breakfast my brother and I put on new pants and socks and my sister wiggles into her new dress and maybe a new hat and gloves. Dad wears the suit he saves for Easter and Christmas, and Mom dons her best dress and a pink broad-brimmed hat that looks like a pastel frying pan. As crocuses bud and sparrows sing, we walk up Bridge Street past white houses and the brick buildings of North Yarmouth Academy to the First Parish Church. The air smells of fresh dirt. After walking together up the walkway and through the double doors, we split up: Dad stays in back to usher, Mom takes Jaye and Roger to the pew with the brass family nameplate on the arm, and I go up to the balcony to sing with the junior choir, looking down on the congregation as we all sing “Christ, the Lord is Risen Today,” our voices lifting our collective All-le-lu-ias! through the doors and windows of the church, carrying me over the streets of town, over fields and coastline, and into enfolding arms.
As a young father, I sit in another church balcony, singing in another choir the tenor part of Handel’s Halleluiah Chorus. It’s too high for me and I’m sure I sound like Tiny Tim singing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” Below me, my daughter Laurie in her new Easter outfit and haircut, smiles up at me from her seat with the youth choir. Earlier, I watched her sing, intense and enthused, her head thrust forward, swaying with the music, once again, feeling that yes, Virginia, there is a god.
A grieving parent now, I sit on a bench by the Charles River under Harvard’s golden cathedral domes glowing in wind-driven clouds, watching a man in faded flannel shirt and frayed cargo pants, curled in a stained sleeping bag against the Weeks Footbridge like a bedraggled cat. Around him, joggers seek endorphin blessings, couples reverently stroll hand in hand, parents rejoice in their children, and twelve ducks meditate on the river.
This morning, the Brother Superior of the monastery lit a bonfire and declared Lent over. I held my candle, sang “Hail Thee, Festival Day” “Now the Green Blade Riseth,” “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” prayed to a god I no longer believe in, and walked to the Charles Hotel for bacon, eggs, hash browns, croissants, and coffee.
A black cumulus settles like a boulder over the sun. Wind suddenly pounds wet nails into my skin.
Runners and families scud away like the ghosts of those I’ve loved and lost. The river churns and ducks bow their heads. I turtle into my jacket. The man by the Weeks Footbridge entombs himself in the mummy bag. Earlier, I proclaimed, “The Lord is risen indeed!” but like the women in Mark’s Gospel who fled the tomb in terror, I’m afraid to believe it, for fear of resurrection’s undermining my understanding of the world, my security, even the security of an emptiness I carry like a cross.
Then the cloud is rolled away, the wind shifts to the south, and the man by the bridge rises. From his tattered trousers, he takes bread, breaks it, and casts it on the water. One by one, the ducks come forth to share his Eucharist.
It’s 11:00 p.m. on Holy Saturday. Father Paul lights a bonfire behind the Chapel at the Desert House of Prayer, outside Tucson, Arizona. As we retreatants gather under a full moon for prayer, coyotes howl in the distance. We process past a Saguaro, its arms lifted as if in prayer, into the chapel for the “Liturgy of the Word,” the Old Testament readings that prepare for the New Testament and the New Covenant, which we celebrate after midnight with Hosannas and Alleluias. Afterward, Mary Lee and I walk hand-in-hand back to the hermitage where we’re staying, a cottage with a double bed, a microwave, a coffee pot, and our own fox, who sometimes comes to the bird feeder when we turn on the outside light.
As we stroll under the moonlight, I recall Father Paul’s telling us at supper on Maundy Thursday that he thought Mary Lee and I were examples of trust and the love of Jesus in the face of Judas’s betrayal, and then think of how Mary Lee and I betrayed our former spouses. I recall at dawn this morning, Mary Lee and I renewing our wedding vows in front of the 15th Station of the Cross, and after breakfast, hiking the trails of the adjacent Saguaro National Park through mesquite, cactus, and red rocks to an abandoned mine. After lunch, the wind blew furiously, knocking a picture off the wall and a lamp off the desk in our hermitage. And I ponder how good and evil, loss and gain, Good Friday and Easter interweave.
Back at the hermitage, I turn on the outside light and Mary Lee and I sit in the darkness of the porch and wait for the fox, which like my faith this week, comes and goes as it wills.
Early Easter morning, it comes: large, I’d guess 25-35 pounds, the chest and some of the face reddish, but mostly gray. Silently, it moves in and out of the flood light, half-cat and half dog, as it mouths the apple peels we’ve set out. My heart races and I feel myself overflowing with gratitude.
The fox trots into darkness. The moon hovers overhead. Mary Lee and I rise and dance in its light.
Back on the couch in Brunswick, Maine, watching through fuzzy eyelids the tiny figures on the computer screen coming to the altar for Easter Communion, I reach for Mary Lee’s hand. For a moment, I experience something I choose to call Grace.
Maybe I’m more a participant in Easter this year than I’ve realized.
One thought on “Easter in the Time of Coronavirus”
You paint a picture of Acceptance–the whole picture, like life–loss and pain and beauty and resurrection and hope. Thank you, Rick.
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