The following is a post I wrote in the form of a letter to our president, Mr. Donald Trump, to work through the issues that emerged after hearing him tease the country with using Easter Sunday as a visual symbol for America’s return to a supposed normalcy.
Dear Mr. President,
I felt the need to write you at this critical juncture as we Americans come together as a nation to fight the deadly coronavirus. I was disturbed on Monday when you telegraphed your hopes that America would return to normal and that Easter services could be packed on April 12. You said that you thought “this would be a beautiful time.”
The same day that you were hinting that we were coming out the other side of this, our presbytery was informing the people of our churches in our jurisdiction to go into quarantine. We set a tone that it was time to physically, emotionally and spiritually prepare to settle in for a protracted period until further notice. Your premature hopeful tone clashed with our “batten down the hatches” tone.
I appreciate your desire to get back to normal as quickly as possible. I don’t think anyone wants to stretch this even one hour longer than necessary. But I am deeply disturbed that you have ignored all of the scientific evidence in order to use Easter services purely as an optic. It makes for great TV. It’s a “beautiful” plot line for a movie script. Movie scripts have a deep impact on people’s imaginations, but they have no impact on a fast moving, deadly virus. There is a reason that we have science and the arts. It is imperative that we don’t confuse the two right now. There are life and death consequences to the decisions that we make in this time.
I write to you as one who has been a religious professional for over thirty years. I have been a local pastor for much of that time and now serve as the executive of a region of churches in the Pacific Northwest. Easter is what we call a “high holy day” in the church. I can see that you recognize that as you imagine how beautiful it would be to have our sanctuaries once again packed with millions of Christians on this special Sunday. I admit that it would make for a tear-jerker, 60 Minutes Special that night.
But for us Easter is not just a Sunday. It is a lived reality. As one of our pastors, the Rev. Dr. David Hutchinson, posted this morning, we are “Waiting for Easter” this year and Easter will be the first Sunday we are back face to face and singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” Lent and Good Friday are just going to last a little longer than we expected.
You see, Mr. President, Easter for us is not a specific date. It’s a lived experience and a season of life. Easter will not be on April 12, Mr. President. Easter this year will be when grandparents can once again hug their grandchildren. Easter will be when we accidentally brush up against a neighbor and say, “excuse me” instead of shuddering in fear. Easter will be when it once again becomes normal to sit next to each other at high school basketball games, concerts on the grass, and in a cozy theater. Easter will be when we step aside and let the elderly woman get the last package of toilet paper on the shelf. Easter will be when our doctors and nurses don’t have worry that they might die just for doing their jobs. Easter will be when we toast each other at our favorite pub or bar.
I am disturbed, Mr. President, because your voice and your office hold incredible weight. In fact, you may have the most powerful pulpit in the whole world and billions of people depend on what you say and what decisions you make. I am disturbed because you have put me in a very awkward position. I also hold a position of authority, not nearly to the degree you do, but I have 96 churches, hundreds of pastors and nearly 14,000 members who take my recommendations seriously. Our presbytery has recommended that we hold no in-person worship until further notice. With only one notable exception, there is no medical expert or government official who is indicating that the worst is over and that we can start preparing for a beautiful Easter Sunday. Mr. President, you are that one lone voice who is not in touch with reality.
I am disturbed, Mr. President, because those of us in leadership positions have to make recommendations to our churches and their pastors in this time. They want to know, “Do we continue to worship online or should we be following the President’s lead on this and start preparing for Easter celebrations?” I am disturbed, Mr. President, because you leave me no choice. I must recommend that our churches continue to remain closed to in-person gatherings until medical experts and our own city, county and state governments lift restrictions. If I am asked why I am not taking my cues from the overly hopeful tone that you have set I will have to be honest: “I am sorry, but I do not trust our president to have the judgment to keep us safe, to be honest with us, and do what is right for our country.”
I wished it weren’t so, Mr. President. I do not relish the thought of crossing the man who is considered to be the most powerful person in the world. But there are thousands, hundreds of thousands, and potentially millions of people’s lives that are on the line, depending on the decisions that you and I make. I can live with defying you. I can’t live with the thought of thousands of people dying for a staged “beautiful Easter Sunday” made for Sunday night television.
Mr. President, I can promise you that Easter will come!
It just won’t be on April 12 this year.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades