It’s Okay to Be Sad
Apr 06, 2020
Last year, my Easter celebrations were nearly perfect.
My husband and son were traveling in Spain, so Friday afternoon I picked up my good friend Edwina and we headed to our synod’s Hudson Conference. We went to First Lutheran in Poughkeepsie for the Karfreitag service, in German. Even though we showed up late—I had the service start time wrong, typical!—our host Pastor DeWinter and her congregants were so warm and welcoming. They gave me a rose made from baking dough, which a year later is here beside me in a vase as I write.
For dinner, Edwina and I sat outside at Essie’s Restaurant. We were sharing a delicious appetizer when I recoiled from a funny taste. “That was a sardine you just ate!” Edwina said. She spoke kind of gravely, because I’m a vegan, but then we both laughed. After dinner we headed to St. John’s, on the other side of Poughkeepsie, for a solemn and thoughtful Good Friday evening service. Even though it was late when service ended, Pastor “PK” stuck around and chatted with us for more than an hour. I was so grateful he gave us that attention during a busy season.
We spent the rainy Saturday browsing and snacking our way through Woodstock and New Paltz before attending the Easter vigil at Redeemer in New Paltz. The Easter vigil is my favorite service of the year, of any year. I love to hear the oldest stories of our faith, of creation and the flood, Abraham and Isaac, King Nebuchadnezzar and his golden statue, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. As darkness fell, we processed behind Pastor Anderson, outside, around the church, while the sanctuary was transformed to greet us with flowers and music in glorious celebration of the Resurrection.
After the vigil, Edwina and I went looking for wine to toast our weekend. Just before closing time, we dashed into a wine store. “I’m glad we found someplace open,” I told the clerk. “We’re not from around here.”
“Are you up from the City?” he asked. “Doing some bar-hopping for the weekend?”
“No,” Edwina replied. “We’re church-hopping. We’re Lutherans!”
The clerk looked a little confused. Nonetheless, he smiled.
Easter morning Edwina and I crossed the river again, to Third Lutheran in Rhinebeck, part of the Lutheran Parish of Northern Dutchess. During the service, Pastor Miller stepped off the chancel and picked up his trumpet. Have you ever heard Pastor Miller play the trumpet? It sounds the way I imagine the choir of angels sound as they repeat Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, Heaven and earth are full of your glory. The sun was shining. The congregation was beaming. My Easter celebration was whole, complete, joyous.
Which brings me to this year.
This year, this holy week, I feel sad.
This year, there will be no church-hopping, no meeting Lutherans from the Hudson conference, no Easter vigil to keep watch with my fellow faithful. In the midst of this terrible coronavirus, Bishop Eaton and Bishop Egensteiner have told us to shelter in place and practice physical distancing. For the safety us all, we have to heed their advice, even during the time when we most want to be together.
These days are scary. No doubt you have friends, co-workers, parishioners, or family members suffering the symptoms of the virus. You may even have lost a loved one. You’re probably tired of being at home—or if you are a brave first responder, or essential worker keeping our communities fed, you may be longing for the safety of home.
Now, on top of this sorrow and uncertainty, we find ourselves in holy week, denied of each other’s company in worship.
I want to say to you that it’s okay to be sad, even on Easter. We will not be worshipping with each other in person during the holiest days of our calendar. We will celebrate Easter without the sacrament of communion. We will be without our pastors, our fellow parishioners, our friends, and for many of us, even without our families. These facts are sad.
As for me, it’s going to be so different from all that connection and joy last year. I will probably try to keep my own Easter vigil of sorts, at home. I imagine that after my husband and son fall asleep, I will grab my Bible and read those old stories of our faith, not aloud, but in silence. I will try to put myself into the mindset of the first followers of Jesus that sabbath day as their crucified leader lay in the tomb. How scared they must have felt, how frightened and alone.
This year, we too will feel fright, as we look out on a world where everything has changed. We will feel loneliness. But unlike the two Marys who prepared the spices and ointments, unlike the disciples who scattered, we already know that this time will end in Resurrection. God raised our Savior out of death itself. How can we doubt that God will see us through this troubled time to a new appreciation of one another?
After his wife, Joy Davidman, died of cancer, C.S. Lewis wrote, “The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.” (From A Grief Observed.) Let’s turn his words around. The pain we feel at being separated now will be reflected in the happiness we share when reunited with our congregations. That doesn’t mean the pain isn’t present now. That doesn’t mean we can’t feel sad. It means we understand God’s promise. That’s the deal.
My siblings in Christ, I ask you to remember what my friend Edwina said to a wine-store clerk one year ago: “We’re Lutherans!” I love this church, I love our synod, and I love each of you. We’ll worship together again soon. Until then, hold onto Moses’s words in Exodus, chapter 14: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”