Churches to celebrate Easter services remotely


 A painting of the crucifixion by Agnolo Gaddi from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.  Photo by Sacha DeVroomen

By Brady Pfister

Easter will look different this year in Oxford.

Rather than Christians of all denominations flocking to churches to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, instead, they will be confined to their homes due to the Ohio stay-at-home order in wake of the COVID-19 outbreak across the state and the world.

Holy Week, starting last Sunday, marks the most important holiday week in the Christian tradition. From Sunday to Sunday, followers of Jesus remember his arrival in Jerusalem, the creation of communion, suffering through the crucifixion and rising from the dead three days later.

Though some churches across the state are refusing to stop meeting, including Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Oxford area congregations are moving its Easter celebrations to the web. For Oxford United Methodist Church pastor Caleb Henry, holding services online is the best way to show love to members and the community as a whole.

“We want to live out the commandment of loving our neighbor as ourselves,” Henry said. “We believe that having in-person services would jeopardize that witness.”

This year, Henry will live-stream his Easter Sunday sermon via YouTube, in a similar fashion to other churches around the area. Holy Trinity Episcopal Church has posted prayers on its website throughout the week and will encourage members to watch Sunday’s service from the Washington National Cathedral.

Rev. Sara Palmer of Holy Trinity, while emphasizing the health of members and the community overall, said she wanted to give her members a sense of majesty this Sunday by streaming the national service.

“Since they have the technology and the music and the glorious setting, I think that’s the most glorious option rather than me doing it,” Palmer said.

Marc van Bluck of Oxford Presbyterian Church said that his congregation had a live-stream service for Maundy Thursday, the day when Jesus ate his “last supper” with his disciples and established the tradition of communion. For many Christians, this important sacrament will be different as they take it at home rather than at church, as the consumption of the bread and wine represents the acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Henry, of Oxford Methodist, said his church sent home self-directed guides to its members to lead them through communion at home.

“Instead of having communion together, this enables families to gather around their own tables to share scripture and to reflect upon the commandment that Christ gave his disciples: To love one another,” Henry said.

Van Bluck said his church is taking every precaution to stop the spread of the virus, even as they record their services — the sanctuary is taped off, marking where various ministers must stand to remain socially distant.  

While the circumstances look much different than any other Easter Sunday, van Bluck said he sees some parallels between Easter 2020 and the first Easter centuries ago.

“The very first Easter Sunday didn’t have all that stuff either,” van Bluck said. “It was an empty tomb and a lot of very scared, anxious disciples trying to wrap their heads around a new reality. Some folks that might be able to relate to that.”

Henry echoed the thoughts of van Bluck, urging fellow believers to not lose heart as the good news of Easter remains the same, regardless of whether churches can meet in person or online.

“Even though we can’t meet together, it doesn’t diminish the power of the resurrection,” Henry said.

While local churches have closed their doors for now, they maintain a spirit of hope in the face of unprecedented times. To Christians, what Jesus did on Easter forever changed the trajectory of the world. For van Bluck, no pandemic can drown that out.

“The good news is good news, no matter what,” he said.