The Lord spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said, 2 “Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time. 3 Celebrate it at the appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations.”
4 So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, 5 and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses.
6 But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day 7 and said to Moses, “We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the Lord’s offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?”
8 Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”
9 Then the Lord said to Moses, 10 “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they may still celebrate the Lord’s Passover. 11 They are to celebrate it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations. Numbers 9:1-12
“What about Easter?” I’ve had no less than two of our members ask that question in the last week. It has become clear that we will be unable to gather together as an entire congregation to celebrate the heart and core of our Christian faith: The Triduum—a period of three days that begins with the liturgy on Maundy Thursday, continues with the service on Good Friday, and ends the evening of Easter Sunday. The Triduum is really all one service that spans over three days, climaxing on Easter Sunday with the celebration of the resurrection.
Some things for us to keep in mind. First, it is right and appropriate that we would want to celebrate the source of our joy in public, divine worship. That is the natural response of faith. I am delighted to hear such a desire.
Second, the early Christian church, dating back to the time of the apostles, moved the standard day for public worship from Saturday to Sunday. This was by no means a new Sabbath law that required people to worship on a specific day; Christians are free to worship on whatever day seems best to them—as long as they do worship publicly. The rationale for setting Sunday as the day for meeting together for public worship served two purposes:
1) It set a consistent, orderly time for Christians to gather together. This allowed them to know when church would be held so that they could set their schedule around public worship;
2) Sunday is the day of the week that our Lord rose from the dead. As such, every Sunday divine worship is like a little Easter. On every Sunday, we are reminded of the reason for the joy that we have—that God has overcome death itself. This means that, whenever we gather for public worship, we celebration the resurrection.
That said, there is no denying that there is something extra special with the Easter hymns and liturgies and Scripture readings on Easter Sunday. Throw in a social gathering over food and drinks, the Easter lilies, and larger-than-normal attendance, it all makes for a special day—all in celebration and recognition of the incredible victory Jesus has given us!
So, as Holy Week approaches, let’s remember that not even a global pandemic or social isolation can diminish the joy we have in the resurrection. Jesus is still out of his tomb; nothing and no one can put him back there. He is still on his throne. He still reigns over everything for our eternal good, even using the COVID-19 pandemic to bring blessings to his people.
So here is what is going to happen at St. Peter’s. Our holy week church services will continue as scheduled by means of our livestream and recorded services. Members and guests will have the opportunity to join us for the Triduum virtually from their homes. I will do my best to sing those hymns beautifully (and sing the correct verse!).
As we look down the road to the coming weeks, perhaps months, once the number cap is lifted and there are no restrictions on how many are allowed to worship together within the walls of our sanctuary, the current plan is to hold a special Easter celebration. And if family wishes and plans permit, we also will bring three new confirmands into full membership on that day too.
As an aside: There is precedence for confirmation being celebrated in conjunction with Easter. In the early church, baptisms were performed and adult catechumens were confirmed in the Easter Vigil, which took place before dawn on Easter Sunday. The early church saw it as a nice tie in to the resurrection: That just as we celebrate the new life of Christ himself, so also the church celebrates the new, spiritual life given in the waters of baptism as well as a new life of sorts for the confirmand as he/she began their new life as full members of the church.
But I digress. Did you know that there is biblical precedence for moving the celebration of a major festival? In Numbers, chapter 9, a scenario arose where some people were unable to celebrate the Passover because they had become ‘unclean’. After consulting with the LORD, a special allowance was put into place that allowed those people to celebrate one month later. Again, while we are under no law or rule which says we must observe one day or another, it goes to show that even our Lord himself allowed flexibility in the celebration of occasions that are typically tied to a specific date on the calendar, such as Easter.
Obviously, our situation is unique. We do not know if this day will be one month later, two months later, four months later (please God, do not let it be that long!). And when that day comes, we will have relatively short notice. But we will do our best as a church to be ‘on the ball’ in letting our members know when that day will be.
It is my hope and prayer that, on that day, church is packed with all of our members and many guests too. Sometimes it is only when something, like public worship, is taken away from us that we begin to have a better appreciation of what we had in the first place. Again, that is my hope and prayer in this time.
God be with you all!