An Easter Confession

I’m sitting here at home at two in the afternoon on Easter Sunday. The morning live stream worship service is over, and I’m right in the thick of the day that would normally be reserved for the mandatory weekly Pastor’s Afternoon Nap. But despite feeling exhausted, I’m also so antsy and restless that I can’t sleep. I’ve really tried, but I just can’t.

I spent the better part of the morning leading worship, such as it is, on Facebook Live. I’m actually very pleased that each week that we do this because of the COVID-19 lockdown, we’ve learned new things and made our services better from a technical standpoint, and all in a very short period of time. The staff and volunteers pulling these services together are truly stars – they’re doing an amazing job, and I’m very pleased and proud of them and their efforts.

My message this morning, similar to my messages in recent weeks, emphasized that regardless of the fact that we aren’t able to be physically together in this time, we are still united and one in Christ. We are still this extraordinary community established by God through Jesus, a community that doesn’t ultimately rely on close physical proximity to either Jesus, or even to one another. And for the most part, that’s an important thing for us all to remember now, and it’s very true.

Except when it isn’t. Despite the underlying truth that we are united in Christ regardless of location or distance, it is still a bedrock tenet of our faith, and particularly our Reformed/Presbyterian tradition, that we can’t live our faith in isolation. Our faith requires us to practice it communally, as people gathered together. That’s why we conduct worship services to begin with. It’s why we sing together, pray together, why our Prayers of Confession, and with only a few exceptions our hymns and songs, are always about “we” or “us,” and not just about “I” or “me.” We don’t ascribe to the notion of faith being a strictly individual, private matter. Personal, yes, but private, never.

And right now, I’m really missing that. I miss being present with the wonderful people I call my parishioners, but in most all cases really consider my friends. My family of choice.

On Sunday mornings past, I was able to see and talk with multiple people on Sunday morning, drawing energy and inspiration from them before and during the service – and hopefully, them getting the same in return from me. Now, on Sundays I feel less like a pastor and more like a television director, working on camera angles, trying to get people to the right microphone at the right time, and coordinating with the staff member controlling the video feed.

And no matter how intently I focus my gaze into the camera lens, and no matter how much I can visualize that I’m actually speaking to one person, it isn’t the same to me as speaking to a room full of them. There’s a communal encouragement that I receive while standing in the pulpit and looking into many faces, with many different expressions. Even the ones who seem to not be paying attention, or who have even fallen asleep – just by their presence there, together in that moment, is energizing and affirming to me as I try to offer some message of hope, of good news – as I try to proclaim gospel to people. Right now, it just isn’t there. And I fear it’s having a negative effect on the quality of my sermons, too, which I hate.

In the midst of my attempts to proclaim a message of hope and resurrection and new life to others – a message that I know in my head to be true – in my heart, I just don’t feel that truth, even while acknowledging the truth’s validity.

I just don’t feel it.

I’m depressed that we can’t all be together, even though I know that we can’t be together, that God doesn’t even want us together in this time of pandemic.

I’m depressed that even in the midst of this, I thought that circumstances may have given us a new, positive opportunity – that given the anticipated lower numbers participating, we could have a more intimate, interactive Good Friday observance – almost more of a virtual home Bible study and devotional time than a worship service – only to have it zoombombed by a swarm of troublemakers filling our computer screens with pornography and profanity.

I’m depressed that no matter how proactive we try to be in maintaining our communal ties, the situations and rules seem to be different every single morning, requiring everything to be recreated almost every day. I worry that as I offer information and instructions to our congregation, only to have to revise things and offer different guidelines just a day, or even hours, later, I’m going to cause people to feel like victims of electronic whiplash, and they’re going just throw their hands up and not participate in our worship and other activities at all.

I’m depressed that people celebrate major milestones in their lives and I can’t share in their joy with a hug, or a handshake, or even being within six feet of them. That I can’t visit someone who’s sick, or even who just lives alone and is lonely, and offer a caring hand or word. That people die and can’t have a proper funeral.

All this is making me cranky and irritable, which I don’t really want to be and which I know only makes things worse. I think that under normal conditions, I’m usually very accommodating and welcoming of other people’s opinions, and welcome trying new things and making changes on the fly in the face of new information – I usually thrive on that, actually. But now, I just want something to remain the same, something that I can rely on, something that I’m not going to have to rethink or reconfigure regarding how I continue to do my job from week to week, day to day.

I want to feel Easter. I want to feel resurrection. Don’t get me wrong; I know it. I just want to feel it, too.

I’m not stupid. I know that faith isn’t all about the feelings. That we can go for long periods of time without having the feels of our faith, even while understanding its validity. Mother Teresa famously confessed that she went for forty years without definitively feeling God’s presence, and yet, in faith, she slogged on. And so do I.

But I still want to feel it.

For my own benefit, certainly, but also so I can be energized by it and be a better, more effective pastor in these strange times, to the people God has called me to serve.

I hate the Coronavirus.

Even though I may not feel it in this moment, I know that Christ is risen. And even though I don’t feel it, I know that through the resurrection, God has affirmed the new life and unity, the at-one-ment that I have with God. And for now, I guess just knowing it will have to be sufficient.

But sometime soon, I’d really like to feel it.

Happy Easter.