Easter during a pandemic.
They don’t prepare you for what you’re to do in a pandemic in seminary — particularly a pandemic at Easter. At any other time, I would be thinking about how to craft an interactive, all-age celebration of the resurrection at our church, choosing worship songs that would resonate with the congregation, adorning the church with lilies and decorating with the colors of Easter. (After all, Easter is like a pastor’s Super Bowl.) I will admit, this year’s online Easter service just didn’t create a sense of excitement in me.
As I sat in my home, peering out the window and pondering these thoughts, I could see my neighbors walking past my house and around the block. I wondered if Easter would be any different for them or if it would just be another day.
At that moment, a thought darted into my mind: what if we could do something for our neighbors to celebrate Easter? What if we set up stations of the cross throughout our development? People could walk through the neighborhood, stop at a cross, read and reflect on an aspect of the Easter story, all while maintaining the required social distancing.
It was a crazy thought for me. We have lived in our little subdivision 12 years and have had very little interaction with our neighbors. It isn’t that no one has tried. It’s just that there hasn’t really been a great sense of community.
Not only did we not know our neighbors very well, we definitely didn’t know their receptivity to a neighborhood Easter celebration. But as the thought kept coming to my mind, my heart started leaping with excitement. I prayed, “What are you asking us to do, Lord?”
A seed of an idea was planted in my heart, and it had begun to grow. However, it would be risky. The first thing we would need to do is figure out a way to talk to our neighbors, something we had not had much success with in 12 years. But, when the Lord wants you to do something, he will make the way.
It just so happened that our neighbor across the street was watching our church service online. She found out that our church had become a food distribution site for school children in town and had sent a message to our church asking if she could make a donation. One conversation let to another, and there in her yard we had a beautiful conversation. She shared concerns about her estranged granddaughter and asked me to pray.
There it was — the door of communication was open. I knew she was the one with whom I could share the idea for a neighborhood Easter celebration amidst our pandemic stay-at-home order. I spilled it to her. She loved it and immediately began to spread the word. Plans started unfolding very quickly, since there was only a week and a half to pull it off. In just a few days, there were 10 neighbors excited to participate. The plan was in full swing!
We got busy constructing crosses, painting and writing. Saturday night deliveries were made to the participating homes. On Easter Sunday morning, our neighborhood became a journey through Jesus’ death and burial. The Episcopal church at the end of our street always has a flowering cross set up for Easter Sunday. What a wonderful ending to the journey to celebrate the resurrected Lord!
We began to see neighbors moving through the stations. We opened our front door and played some Easter worship music from our front porch. As people came by, we stepped outside to wave and greet them with a “Happy Easter!” They were loving this new way of experiencing Easter, and we were loving the connections being made. In all the years we have lived here, we have never had so many conversations with our neighbors. We would have never dreamed that the journey of the cross and resurrection would be what would unite our little community together.
On Monday morning after Easter, I received a message from our neighbor, the first with whom I connected. She and her husband had stopped at each of the crosses, shedding tears at each one. As they turned the corner to visit the crosses on their street, they saw their granddaughter standing in front of their house waving at them.
“There was a reason that we would be walking the path of Jesus this morning in the moment upon her arrival,” she wrote. “There is always hope no matter the circumstances. And for that I am grateful.”
This will be an Easter for all of us to remember. For our little neighborhood, this is the start of a new way of celebrating Easter and a new way of experiencing community. And for that I am grateful.
Rev. Marilyn Searcey serves as pastor at Renovate Church in Delmar, Maryland.