When Lent began on Feb. 26, few expected that the days of preparation and reflection culminating in Holy Week and Easter Sunday would be spent largely in isolation.
What began as a typical period of fasting and prayer soon became much more intense as the COVID-19 crisis suddenly swept the globe and elected officials urged the public to stay indoors.
Now, 40 days later, Lent has ended with a new challenge: celebrating Easter Sunday as congregations throughout the community are separated thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Just as the angels ministered to our Lord in the desert, I think the angels are ministering to us now and awakening in us new ways of being connected and staying together as a community,” said Father Dan Lackie, pastor for the Saint Barbara Parish, in a video message to his fellow parishioners.
Thanks to livestreaming, video uploads, and podcast services, Santa Barbara’s churches are able to do just that. Across the county, Easter Sunday is being celebrated online, as congregations tune in to commemorate the resurrection of their savior Jesus Christ.
At the Saint Barbara Parish, Easter Mass will be broadcast live on the St. Barbara Parish at Old Mission Santa Barbara Facebook page and at https://www.santabarbaramission.org/parish/#videos.
Starting at 9 a.m., Father Lackie will lead his congregation through the liturgy of Easter Sunday, complete with hymns, scripture readings, and prayer. Worshipers will be able to follow along with a worship guide, which can be found at https://www.santabarbaramission.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Easter-Sunday-2020-Worship-Aid.pdf.
Many churches in the area will follow suit. St. Joseph Church in Carpinteria will livestream their Easter Mass in Spanish at 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. in English. There will be musical accompaniment, bouquets of orchids donated by local flower growers, and preaching by pastors Monsignor Richard Martini and Father Carlos Villasano.
Worshipers can tune in any time Sunday at https://stjosephchurch.org, where they’ll see a picture of Monsignor Martini standing in the middle of the church with photos of the congregation spread throughout the pews.
“I’m there in the midst of all the pictures of all our families to help remind me who I’m praying with and praying for,” said Monsignor Martini.
While that family will be spread out, Monsignor Martini said the online nature of this Easter Sunday certainly doesn’t diminish its importance and impact.
“It will simply be different,” said Monsignor Martini. “As they tune in I’d say we’d want them to light a candle at home, believe that Jesus is the light of the world and that he leads us. Then simply listen and engage. We may offer some questions for reflection and they can carry on these conversations in their homes.”
Despite the modern twist, churches are attempting to preserve the liturgy and tradition of Easter, even while pastors record Sunday services from their homes.
In his pre-recorded sermon posted on the El Montecito Presbyterian Church’s Youtube page, Rev. Tom Haugen kept ancient liturgy alive by saying, “Jesus Christ is risen!”
“You reply back with,’He is risen indeed,’” said Rev. Haugen. “I have no way of knowing if you’re actually going to respond, but God knows, so we better do this right!”
At All Saints By the Sea Episcopal Church, where Rev. Aimée Eyer-Delevett has also pre-recorded an Easter sermon from her home, they’ve asked the congregation to remain engaged by having a bell on hand, playing one of their Easter playlists, and popping some champagne or sparkling cider to celebrate their Easter meal.
While church communities wish they could spend Easter Sunday together and not be stuck in their homes, congregations know it is the right thing to do in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.
“It is our responsibility as followers of Jesus to not place others in harm’s way, especially those who are most vulnerable among us, by either exposing them to potential infection or inadvertently contributing to the spread of the virus in the larger community,” wrote
Senior Minister for the First United Methodist Church, Rev. Dr. Mark Richardson.
This idea of responsibility has been a common theme for churches in the community as they observed Holy Week.
“We’re asking them to sacrifice things they know and love for the sake of protecting each other,” said Monsignor Martini.
“That very human effort is actually quite divine, where you would be willing to lay down your life for somebody else. Lay down the things you love doing because you’re trying to protect each other.”
As his congregation has adjusted to the new way of life under quarantine, Monsignor Martini said he’s seen them go through a whole range of emotions, but ultimately they have accepted the situation and are now looking for ways to come together.
“I think many people are comforted by our online efforts. What I see is this amazing generosity,” said Monsignor Martini.
From prayer to sewing masks to delivering food, Monsignor Martini has seen how, instead of isolating people, the pandemic has created a new kind of solidarity in the community.
“I think it’s building up more and more care among our congregations, and for that I can only rejoice. We can only be glad of Easter hope, that this is a movement not just for the now, but that this kind of generosity and solidarity with other people will continue even beyond the pandemic.”
Although this Easter Sunday is strange, and communities will be spread out across the county instead of being brought together under one roof, pastors hope that by holding services online their congregations will, in a way, be even more connected than before.
One man told Monsignor Martini that even though his family is in the Seattle, Washington area, they’ll all be tuning in today. Through the livestream, his brothers, sisters and father will all be able to watch the same Mass despite the distance between them.
“In essence there’s a blessing in all of this. It’s bringing families who aren’t geographically very close… it’s bringing them close together by having the same experience, and in that experience they’re sharing. It’s odd, but it may be a blessing in disguise,” said Monsignor Martini.
“This is a very different Easter. Yet the word of God continues that there is salvation in Jesus Christ. That’s what we’ll be preaching, that this may in fact be the best Easter ever.”