by Mandy Sayers*
Being a pastor is wonderful and difficult, as most things God calls us to do can be. And one of the gifts of this calling is that we are part of a fellowship of Elders or Deacons, called to support one another and pray for one another.
Sometimes, however, it can feel a bit like a competition. And usually, I feel I’m on the short end of the stick.
Other pastors are single-handedly solving the shortage of low-income housing, or defeating sex-trafficking, or growing so fast they can’t keep up with it. They are loved by all their parishioners, and they have all the latest “things” and they are doing all the secret magic things one has to do to attract young families and millennials, and seniors, all of whom are just dying to embrace tithing as a concept. They have paid-off mortgages, a happy staff, and an SPRC that encourages them to take a sabbath leave.
And I feel like an old bowling shoe in comparison, if I’m being honest about it.
And then, COVID-19 hit. As if the denominational showdown, my church’s enormous mortgage, and my own lack of panache and charm as a pastor were not enough. Now, every five minutes, I have a new thing to think of and to worry about.
We have to have Easter but not with any of the normal tools to pull it off. We have to be upfront about our need for resources without reminding people of that televangelist who sends out prayer cloths to little old ladies (including one with a picture of our Savior on it whose eyes follow you around).
Now I’ve got fights breaking out over whether online communion during a pandemic is okay or not, whether the Bishop’s letter on this or that counts as “a directive I have to follow” (my thought is yes or she wouldn’t have gone to the trouble to write it). I’ve got people telling me I should use Zoom, but not get zoombomed, that I should live-stream (even if my tech booth is tiny) or Facebook-live, but not violate copyright law, or rig up lilies and a fake empty tomb in my living room.
And none of this — none of it — is covered in seminary.
Meanwhile, as I stress-eat my way right out of my most generous pair of yoga pants, as I look out my window, spring is blooming with an intensity that I don’t seem to remember in past years. The green is greener, and the pink is pinker. The birds are singing louder (or is it because there’s fewer cars on the roads?).
I’ve reached out to long lost friends on the phone for the first time in eons and we laughed until the tears rolled down our zoom-boxed faces. My time in Scripture and prayer seems more focused (because I don’t have that commute anymore), and it is as if God is speaking to my heart about resurrection in a way I haven’t heard in ages.
I don’t know what Our Lord is saying to you, but this Easter, I am definitely getting the Word that Easter is not something that has anything fundamentally to do with me at all. Resurrection requires precious little of the body, as it turns out.
What if Easter is something God gives when the world has done all it can do and has found out it cannot save itself? What if this Easter is about the cherry blossom tree in our yard, not the lilies in our sanctuary? What if it’s about giving real help to people in real need? What if our resurrection choir consists of toddlers and teenagers at our table, and re-discovering God’s presence in the small things on our walk that we would normally walk right on by?
My Jesus can definitely work with a “stay at home” order because he shows up in locked rooms filled with fearful disciples with a frequency I find shocking.
Church: resurrection is something God does, not something we do. And if this Lent has felt like the “Lentiest,” I really think it’s a setup for the “Easter-est” Easter. All this life right outside our window, all this ferocious, audacious life. It’s like someone didn’t get the word about the pandemic being forever, or about Good Friday and the crucifixion being our forever fate.
I won’t have the shiniest Holy Week experience this year because you don’t go to seminary to get good with technology.
But it turns out God does all the hard work of Holy Week. And in the end, as always, the joke is on us.
Once again, as we run around looking for a body to anoint, the resurrected Jesus whispers our name … and we realize the stone was never ours to roll away in the first place.
*Rev. Mandy Sayers serves as pastor at Glen Mar UMC in Ellicott City.