Easter is the highlight of the Christian year – the culmination of the gospel story. Redemption. Resurrection. Eternal life. With churches not being able to celebrate Easter together due to social distancing and limits on public gatherings because of the coronavirus, what should the church do?
This year, Easter falls on Sun., April 12, but, as you know, the date for Easter varies each year. Traditionally, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or just after the spring equinox (the first day of spring). So, this year, let’s take advantage of the moveable date.
I recently spent an hour on a conference call brainstorming with worship ministry colleagues from state conventions across the nation about what churches could do for their Easter celebrations this year. Many great ideas were expressed. Here are some recommendations based on that discussion.
Plan to celebrate Easter the third Sunday after resuming public gatherings
It will be difficult to really capture the joy of Easter via livestreaming (more on that later).
Your church will be ready for a major celebration when it can gather once again. Plus, those first few gatherings will be an adjustment. Following is a suggested pattern to consider that builds to an Easter celebration.
Your first Sunday back will be a mix of emotions and a time of healing in many ways.
While there will be a sense of joy for being able to gather again as a church body, many people may be hesitant or fearful to gather together following weeks full of fear, social distancing and isolation. Recognize the hard place your people are coming from, and minister to them through corporate worship.
Announce plans for an Easter celebration that will be coming in two weeks, and encourage your people to begin inviting all of their neighbors, friends and others.
The second Sunday should be the start of Holy Week observance. Walking through the suffering and death of Christ will be a great experience for the church after all it has endured because of the coronavirus.
Observing Holy Week helps us emotionally move from death to life. Even if you have never emphasized Holy Week, this is a great time to have Palm/Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. Make much of this week’s journey.
Then, celebrate Easter in a major way on the third Sunday to let people know Christ is victorious over death, as well as all of the troubles and sorrows that we have experienced in the previous weeks and months. Having the celebration on the third Sunday provides adequate time to prepare for the service with rehearsals, media prep, publicity and more.
Postpone all baptisms until you celebrate Easter
Many churches have been encouraged to conduct baptisms on Easter Sunday this year. Baptisms during the COVID-19 period are risky for spreading infection. You could livestream a single baptism to your online church, but waiting until the Easter gathered celebration will make that day a greater celebration. Waiting also addresses the concern of the virus spreading through baptism.
Promote the Easter celebration to come
During your online service on Easter Sunday (April 12), let people know what will take place when the church resumes gathering together. Let the congregation know the Easter celebration to come will be a day unlike any other. Until your church resumes worship gathering, continue to promote the Easter celebration during your online services.
Recognize Easter Sunday online and point to a future celebration
Recognize and celebrate Easter in your livestream service on April 12, but let people know this is not the only way your church will celebrate Easter this year.
Make Easter Sunday’s online service a memorable one. If you are using live music, perhaps invite a special guest to your livestream to provide some great music. This can be done by prerecorded video, if needed, to include in your online service.
Realize that you will probably have more people watching your livestream on April 12 than any other Sunday. Cast vision about what things will look like when you gather once again in person. Invite online viewers to join you when you resume public gatherings. There will be many seekers viewing your online service. People are more open to the gospel during times of suffering. Connect with them and urge them to join you in gathered worship when that day comes.
Recognize Easter on April 12, but don’t try to make it look like an Easter service you do for a full congregation. Save that for the third Sunday of the return to gathering. Make that a day that will live forever in people’s memories.
Granted, this is not the only way to approach Easter during these unusual times, but it does provide a helpful framework to consider.
For more worship resources during these trying times, visit RenewingWorshipNC.org and ResourcingWorship.com. Both sites are working together to provide the resources you need to lead worship well as the church is scattered.
Watch for additional articles addressing the first three Sundays of worship gatherings on RenewingWorshipNC.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kenny Lamm is senior consultant for Renewing Worship and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)