The cancelation of in-person Easter celebrations won’t stop local church leaders from providing people an opportunity to worship remotely.
Easter, which is on April 12, is a meaningful holiday for more than one group of people. Many families spend Easter Sunday attending church services, watching their children participate in Easter egg hunts, going out to eat and/or spending time with their loved ones. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, gatherings are limited and in-person church services are temporarily not available.
“Obviously to the faith community, Easter is a very big deal, and to those, the churches and the people who attend those churches, it means a lot,” North Side Baptist Church Executive Pastor Keith Warren said. “I’m sure to the business community, it’s important. If you’re a restaurant that typically is very crowded on Easter, then it means a lot to you as well. If you’re a department store that sells Easter dresses, Easter bonnets and Easter shoes for little girls for Easter Sunday, that means a lot to you, and so, it’s a wide-ranging group of people that would be affected by this.”
However, Warren said this year’s Easter may allow Christians to remember the basics of their faith.
“Ultimately, [social distancing measures] could be a very positive thing for the church because all the things that distract us from the real purpose of celebrating Easter— the dresses and the bonnets and the egg hunts and the dinner reservations— all those sorts of things are taken away, and we are really left with just the essentials, what is Easter about,” Warren said. “Anytime we can, in our modern world, anytime we can strip back to the essentials of our faith, that’s a good thing.”
Easter is a central celebration to Christianity because it is a basic part of the doctrine as detailed in the Gospels, Weatherford College Government and History Instructor John Flanagan said. Celebrating Easter is one of the church’s oldest traditions.
In addition to church, some people connect Easter with eggs and bunnies, which are symbols of birth and fertility. In Catholic traditions, people used to not be able to eat eggs during Holy Week, but their chickens would continue to lay eggs so people would end up with a bunch of eggs, Flanagan said. To some, eggshells represented Jesus’s tomb while cracking the egg represented the resurrection.
There is also a traditional story where a Roman official confronts Christians, who are carrying eggs with them.
“The Roman official mocks them for their belief and points to the egg and says, ‘There’s as much chance that Jesus was the son of God as that egg would have turning red,’” Flanagan said. “According to the story, there’s a miracle, and all those eggs turn bright red.”
The first evidence of an Easter rabbit was in 1572 in what is now Germany, Flanagan said. Then, German immigrants who came to the U.S. made chocolate candy in the shape of rabbits, which eventually transformed into the chocolate rabbits we have today.
Texas has had several Easter traditions, such as bonfires lit the Saturday night before Easter near Fredericksburg, which comes from German and pagan traditions, Flanagan said. People in east and central Texas use wax and dye to make intricate and colorful Wendish eggs which originated in from Slavic people in East Germany.
In Hispanic cultures, eggs are hollowed out and the insides are replaced with confetti inside the shells, and then people go around throwing those eggs at others, Flanagan said. Making these cascarones can be traced back to Spain but is also practiced in Mexico, South Texas and Latin American countries.
Flanagan talked about how Easter was treated during historical pandemics. During the Spanish Flu in 1918-19, which is similar to COVID-19, churches closed down in the U.S., and people opted to worship privately.
“They did do what today we’re calling social distancing, but basically you stayed away from people so you wouldn’t get sick,” Flanagan said.
Parker County Ministerial Alliance leader and First Baptist Church Senior Pastor Lyndale Holloway said ministerial alliance members have shared ideas and resources amongst each other about ministering during this time. In addition, church leaders have been supporting each other and the community.
“I have been proud to see churches sharing and supporting one another during this time and have high confidence that even in the midst of this situation, Easter will be a phenomenal and meaningful celebration of the resurrection of Jesus,” Holloway said.
For regular services, some churches have switched to online services via streaming on their websites and will do so for Easter services. The choir at North Side Baptist Church is planning on recording their parts remotely to make for a virtual choir, Warren said.
First United Methodist Church had planned to walk congregation members through “Stations of the Cross” prior to Easter, but now this will be done through live-stream for Maundy Thursday, “Stations of the Cross” depicting Jesus’ last steps before his death on Good Friday and two services on Easter, Music and Worships Arts Director Karen Hogue said.
“Our services at the methodist church are big and very triumphant, lots of orchestra, lots of choir, lots of music, lots of lilies, and we won’t have any of that this year,” Hogue said. “No brass, no people in the pews. While it has affected us in many ways like that, I believe with all my heart that God is in this and that we’re going to come out on the other side, better than what we went into it.”
St. Stephen Catholic Church Pastor Father Michael O’Sullivan said their services will also be moved online. Catholic liturgies during Holy Week tend to be traditional from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday which are usually celebrated as a group.
“I’ve been a priest all my life and I think none of us have ever experienced the world as it is, as it has been the past few weeks,” O’Sullivan said. “We just do the best we can and streamline as best we can.”
St. Stephen Catholic Church, among others, has been reaching out to the vulnerable at this time, such as by serving food for pick-up and helping the elderly in the parish, O’Sullivan said.
“When we get through all this, we learn something more about our faith,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s not just kind of showing up to church and stamping your passport that I’ve shown up. It’s being a church. It’s really about communities being communities and how best we can do that.”
Warren said North Side Baptist Church would be incorporating ways to welcome church visitors during the online Easter services, since the holiday brings in people who are new to the church or may only attend services on Easter Sunday.
Hogue suggested that people spend time with family, stay off their devices and have gratitude to celebrate Easter. She had noticed from one of their live-streamed services that the number of viewers wasn’t much different than what they are for in-person services.
“It’s new and different, and I think people are searching for truth and good news right now in light of what’s going on,” Hogue said. “The church needs to be the light and the rock.”
O’Sullivan said he is praying for those suffering, and first responders and healthcare workers who are putting themselves at risk during the outbreak.
“It’s like a waking up time maybe,” O’Sullivan said. “It will hopefully help us to wake up and help us really value our connection with one another, our conversations and our best wishes for people, wishing kindness and that we may be compassionate.”