I was in my second year of university in a new city and new province where my mom, sister and I had moved after the very unexpected passing of my father. In the months that followed, holidays were experienced quite differently, including the holy ones connected to my faith.
A family in the church we were attending extended an invitation to spend Easter Sunday on their acreage about 10 minutes from the city. So after church we joined their extended family in a wonderful meal and conversation, and then were invited outside for an Easter egg hunt. I assumed we were out there to watch the little ones search for eggs but we were told we were supposed to scour the trees and high places. Within moments we were on a full-on hunt, searching and laughing right alongside the little kids.
I was set to begin writing finals just a few days later. Serious business. But that afternoon I was like a kid again, finding joy in such a simple thing. Of course the meaning of the day was found in the worship service earlier that morning which was a celebration of the cornerstone of my faith, but to continue the day with a family that shared that faith was a blessing I couldn't have anticipated. We were welcomed into their traditions; both the sacred and the secular, the faith-filled and the fun.
If it had been my decision, we wouldn't have gone to spend the day with that family. I would have headed home and resumed a study schedule rather than spend the day with people I didn't know very well. Instead, that invitation led to such an unexpected joyous and meaningful celebration. The priority of faith. The importance of community.
Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week, was commemorated this year on April 5, albeit in very different ways in churches the world over. During part of Holy Week last year, my husband and I were in Mexico. Our plan to attend a worship service had to change and we found ourselves looking for a televised alternative. That is when we came across coverage of the fire in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The fact that it happened when it did seemed especially devastating, since many times of worship should have taken place there leading up to Easter Sunday. Multiply that the world over to consider all the places of worship that can't do what they need to do right now. Or at least can't do it in the way they might want. But that's not where the story ends.
At a time when the world needs hope, at a time when people need to gather to mourn their loved ones, at a time when people have such need to talk this through, the very places many would turn are now functioning differently. But what is important to note is that they are functioning. Of all the shutdowns, closures and restrictions we are now under, it is our faith institutions that in many ways have been best positioned to keep going. Although much happens within their walls, much more can happen outside of them. Because faith is not contained within a building, but is instead lived out in the lives of its people. Those people, led by pastors, ministers, priests, rabbis and all other religious leaders have found ways to keep worship, connection and community not only surviving, but in some cases, thriving. It isn't easy, but they are making it happen in beautiful ways.
There are times we will find ourselves in situations other than what we planned…or hoped. Those moments require resolve, but they may also lead to increased appreciation for something that seemed so ordinary--gathering together for worship, for study, for community. Yet I have become so much more aware of all those around the world who never had that to begin with.
Yes, people of faith are doing things differently, and some traditions will not be happening. I'll be honest, it makes me sad that I will not be spending the rest of this week the way I had planned. But just like always, there are unanticipated blessings. Chiefly, new depths of growth and appreciation of faith. Because nothing can take a single thing away from what this week is all about. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! That's my outlook.