Alleluia. Christ is Risen!
This morning, as we began the livestreamed Easter Eucharist from the high altar of Trinity Cathedral, those words echoed out over a completely empty nave. Aside from the clergy, readers, verger, and two recording technicians, all of us spread out in the chancel, the great church was vacant, save of course for the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. From the devices through which viewers participated, one would not have noticed. The prerecorded music was beautiful and doubtless filled their homes and hearts with the familiar sounds of our Resurrection celebration. The liturgy delivered us to Christ’s sacrifice, which we have been preparing ourselves to join anew throughout the Lenten journey. But looking out past the cameras that were capturing those parts of the service broadcast in real time, the view was striking. No procession. No choir. No communicants. Not even chairs.
At first, the emptiness was a stark reminder of the many losses we have experienced over the last year: the loss of community and regular companionship in our worship and other disciplines of faith; the loss of jobs and security and loved ones to the coronavirus; the loss of confidence in government and the structures of democracy; the loss of respect for one another and common decency in how we live with difference and diversity; the loss of patience, sometimes even with those we hold dear; and the loss of humility that often accompanies the loss of trust in one another.
Yet, as we listened to scripture and teaching, were carried by recorded music, made our intercessions to the divine ear, and offered ourselves in surrender to the Eucharistic sacrifice – as we made our “great thanksgiving” to God for the possibility of new life by dying to the old life – the emptiness of that beautiful room took on a profound and different meaning. It became, itself, a symbol of resurrected life. It became an empty tomb.
In the first of the collects for Easter Day, we pray, “Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection.” Indeed, it is in dying to our sin that we are led out of the tomb of loss into the world where Jesus is already waiting for us, just as he was already in the Galilee awaiting the first disciples after Mary found the tomb empty. He is waiting for us to be his resurrected body doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.
The joy of Christ’s resurrection for which we pray this day is not just in the church, as joyful as that is for many of us, and especially on Easter Day. Rather, it is everywhere we care for those whom God loves and for whom Jesus died. He rose again “that he may be in us and we in him,” as the Eucharistic prayer proclaims, and the joy of his resurrection is in how we incarnate his love every day.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio
March 1, 2021
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Thank you for sustaining your heroic efforts to maintain parochial community as we continue to combat the coronavirus. I share everyone’s longing to return to in-person gathering. The numbers are finally trending in a positive direction, as a result of adherence to the protocols requested and required by federal, state, and local government agencies. Just last Thursday, the first four of the 48 counties in the Diocese of Ohio have turned from red to orange, one of which is home to an Episcopal congregation. At the same time, a number of epidemiologists are expressing caution about a potential surge at the end of March from the variant strains currently being diagnosed across the country. While we monitor that possibility, we can begin to consider the possibility of return to in-person gathering for worship, formation, and governance.
To that end, the decision of whether in-person gathering for worship, formation, and governance is safe and appropriate will return to parish leadership for services and events beginning on the 5th Sunday in Lent, March 21. This will give every congregation time to consider carefully and thoughtfully what will be best in their specific context.
No congregation is required to return to in-person gathering and no communicant is expected to participate if and when it does. The parochial responsibility for making this decision in no way implies that in-person gathering is necessarily appropriate. The decision of whether to participate is an individual obligation that concerns one’s own health and that of others.
No member of the Clergy is required to participate in in-person gathering for worship, formation, or governance at this time. Members of the Bishop’s Staff will not be expected to visit parishes for gatherings of any sort until the county in which they live and the county in which the parish is situated are at Level 1 or 2 (Yellow or Orange, respectively) and the staff member has received a COVD-19 vaccination or otherwise feels secure.
To every extent possible, all vehicles for “virtual” participation (Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube, etc.) should be continued and enhanced.
In carrying out this responsibility, it will be critically important for clergy and lay leaders to give serious consideration to a range of available data and guidelines. These include:
Beginning the 5th Sunday in Lent (March 21), parishes resuming in-person gathering must:
A pre-recorded, online worship service for the Second Sunday of Easter (April 11) will be made available to all congregations by the end of this month. The hope is that this will provide a modest break in responsibilities following Holy Week and Easter.
Finally, if any vestry, clergyperson, or lay leader is experiencing difficulty in making these decisions, please do not hesitate to contact me or any member of the Bishop’s Staff for assistance. There is a wide diversity of perspective on every aspect of COVID-19 response, and I know that when decision-making about gathering moves from me back to parish leadership, so, too, will move some of the division and divisiveness that accompany it. The challenges of this time need not threaten our unity, rather may they bring out the best in our vocation to be Christian and exhibit, within our congregations and beyond, what it means to be the Body of Christ.
Know that you remain always in my prayers and affection.
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio