We started this whole quarantine, isolation, homeschool, work from home thing almost a month ago in the middle of Lent. The me who loves rhythms of liturgical seasons could spiritually get behind the idea that we would spend Lent sacrificing for others.
Yes, things were more complicated.
Yes, working from home as a lay minister to children, youth, and families was difficult with two small people connected to me every waking minute of the day.
Yes, the fact that we are approaching a big move into a home we’ve been building for the past 16 months and selling our first home was overwhelming.
And yes, the perfectionist in me was being challenged by the fact that I could do nothing well and that the white slipcover we put on our staged uncomfortable couch in the only living space we have was now covered in markers, dirt, and dog hair.
But this is Lent! Look how proud of us Jesus is (which I fully believe is true, I don’t think Jesus wanted any of this but I think he’s dang proud at how we are responding!) While none of it made sense, the setting of Lent allowed me to put it into a box that helped me move forward.
Then it came. Easter. The tomb is empty. Jesus is risen and we’re all still home.
My boxes have all fallen apart and just like the disciples, we are inside. I’m wondering what in the world I’m supposed to do next. The reality of ministering, parenting, and personing during a pandemic did not received the memo that Christ is Risen! We get to say ALLELUIA now, and things should go back to normal (or even better) please and thank you. I live in Virginia where the height of this pandemic is supposed to hit within the next few weeks. We have parishioners who are sick, I have friends who are working the front lines in hospitals, and my spouse has an ‘essential profession’ and still goes out into the world everyday. Fear is real and warranted. While Easter has come to remind us that we are people of hope, Good Friday has also come and reminded us that we will not all be delivered from suffering.
The thing about Easter is this: Jesus’ resurrection is not magic fairy dust or a reset button or the portal to a holy highway leading us straight to the land of milk and honey. Easter is God’s manifestation and ever present reminder that THE WORST THING IS NOT THE LAST THING.
I sometimes like to fall into fairytale faith where Easter means the hard part is over.
Gave up chocolate? Go on and eat that chocolate now.
Looking for a more meaningful life? Here’s a fulfilling job with great benefits!
Seeking connection? Why here is the community you’ve been longing for…and they love your shoes!
Stayed home a few weeks during a pandemic? Good job! You’re a great person, go get coffee and walk the aisles of Target.
Fairytale faith fills a lot of pews and sells some serious books, but it’s not rooted in Jesus. Fairytale faith looks a lot like jumping from Palm Sunday to Easter; it’s bright and shiny but it omits the parts of Christ’s story that reveal his true humanity. His complicated friendships, begging for a different option from God, and heart-wrenching suffering and grief.
My son (a kindergartener) asked me during week two of being home, “Did God make the coronavirus happen?” We had a long talk about our God not being a director from the sky, about contagious diseases, and about how God’s love for us doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen. Fairytale faith would tell us God could make it all go away, but the life of Jesus shows us that God isn’t a puppeteer; She’s a redeemer.
The tomb is empty and we are still home. God’s doing God’s thing in some amazing ways. Redemption is here and now in small and big ways but it is also still to come.
Last year I did some writing for Lent in the blazing bright of July at my mother’s bedside. She was dying and I sat vigil with her for a week as she slowly transitioned. I was so grateful for the chance to write about Lent during those summer days. The world around me continued to head to the beach, eat snow cones, and lay in the warm grass looking up at the blue sky. I sat in memory care and could not have been more grateful to dig into a season leading to death as I did the same. Friends, right now, we are universally sitting vigil.
A friend recently reminded me that the disciples stayed hidden away for quite some time after Jesus’s death, unsure of what to do next. Even though Christ had risen it didn’t mean the world was safe for them. Real-time liturgical seasons were far more complicated than changing the color of the altar cloth and adding Alleluia back into the rotation. We are living in a real-time pandemic. The world as we lived in it before is not safe for us, yet. We are living out our baptismal covenant to love our neighbors as ourselves and respect the dignity of every human being. The tomb is empty and we are home… being Christ in the world through new and uncharted ways.
I invite you to join me in finding ways to share the radical love of God through methods that stretch us. The comfortable routines of our lives, worshiping at the altar of productivity, and our concepts of connection are all being turned upside down and I know, without a doubt, that those upside-down places are exactly where Jesus does his best work.
Kevin D. says
Thank you Emily. I do pray that we are all finding ourselves closer to Christ as we move through this history and pray that manifests itself in a new and renewed commitment to love our neighbours as He loves us. Let’s also pray that we don’t return to ‘normal’ when this passes, if normal means forgetting that commitment and ignoring the upside-down.
Thanks also for the reminder about fairytale faith. Christ suffered terribly for us. Loving our neighbours seems like the least we can do to acknowledge that debt. I need to get much better at that.
Elizabeth Bunin says
Emily, thank you so much for this! I am deeply touched by your words as they seep down into to my soul. I am so needing this reminder in my day to day struggles. Thank you, friend!
Emily Rutledge says
I’m glad my words could buoy you as your friendship has done for me for so long. Love you, dear friend!
Christian Simmers says
Thank you so much for your beautiful words- I love the picture of sitting vigil.
Emily Rutledge says
Grateful to sit vigil with you, friend.
George C. Roberts says
A wonderful awareness here on the juxtaposition between Easter, the Cross, and how God loves us in this messy, confusing yet blessed old world. As a priest, I have tried to find this space alot lately and you state it with grace and compassion. I have already shared it with my congregation on our FB Page. Blessings to you, and your family, and your move.
Emily Rutledge says
Blessings to you, friend! And prayers as you lead your parish with grace and compassion!
Wow! This is an AMAZING reflection. Thank you SO much for putting into words what I believe SO many of us are feeling right now. This is something I tried to capture, to a much lesser extent than what you’ve done here, in my sermon for Easter 3. Peace to you and your family and friends as we all sit vigil together and seek ways to see and be the risen Christ during these tough times.
Emily Rutledge says
Thank you, Ryan. Blessings as you lead a parish during this time. So grateful to sit vigil with so many wonderful people.
Mary Ruth McKenney says
Dearest Emily, I just prayed for God to continue giving you strength, courage and hope, that Jesus continue to give you his vision and humorous way of seeing things and the Holy Spitit to continue lifting you up. Amen!
Emily Rutledge says
Thank you! And prayers for you as you traverse this time. That Holy Spirit really is a faithful companion!