This Easter, in addition to everything else it represents, is a pretty good gauge of the past year’s trajectory.
A year ago at this time I was wiping down grocery deliveries with a homemade bleach solution and wondering whether my perfectly ample supply of toilet paper would be sufficient. Since I was working from home, the all-news network droned on in the background, and often in the foreground, 18 hours a day, because Something Very Important could happen at any moment.
Melania had canceled the White House Easter egg hunt, for crying out loud. This was serious.
And it was serious, though it would be months before we grasped just how much so.
This Easter, by contrast, feels a little like another, much less auspicious commemoration, Groundhog Day: Folks are poking their heads out of their holes to see what’s out there. Not including those who believe the whole thing was some kind of sinister political hoax, that nasal test swabs cause cancer or that COVID-19 vaccines are a government mind-control scheme, there is relief — perhaps mixed with mild, still-lingering trepidation.
This Easter ought to be telling. Not just the religious aspect of it, although that’ll surely be meaningful: Easter services are traditionally the best attended worship services of the year, and after a year of live-streamed and, eventually, every-other-pew services, attendance this Sunday should provide us with a helpful temperature reading. Every Easter is like that, of course — but this one maybe just a little more so.
“I call it the Christian Super Bowl,” said the Rev. Phil Neighbors, co-pastor of Valley Baptist Church, one of the city's largest. “Gotta get ready.”
Appropriately, Neighbors, like any good head coach, was in preparation mode Saturday, studying game film. “We’re on Netflix, watching something called ‘The Son of God.’ I’m pumping myself up for the big day. I always try to watch “The Ten Commandments’ — took us two nights this time — and ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told.’”
At Valley Baptist, as at thousands of churches across the country, they’ve been taking special precautions every Sunday since just before Christmas, when they moved the whole operation from a tent back into the sanctuary. They've been spacing out parishioners as best they can, discouraging handshakes and inside-the-building fellowship, and coming through the sanctuary between services with an industrial-sized sanitary misting agent like airlines use between flights. “You’ve seen the backpack thing in ‘Ghostbusters’? That’s what we call it,” Neighbors said.
Last year, more than 6,000 attended Easter services at Valley Baptist. This year, Neighbors said, 2,000 is more likely, although 4,000 is an attainable goal.
A major element of his optimism: Vaccines. Neighbors polled 75 “senior adult” members of his congregation a couple of weeks ago about whether they had been vaccinated and 100 percent said they had. One-hundred percent.
“That has helped a lot,” Neighbors said. “You can say, ‘OK, that’s behind me.’” Now, he said, if only younger, “a little bit more rebellious” members of the congregation would come around to that realization.
Religious considerations aside, this Easter season feels different than last. Everything about 2021 feels different from 2020, of course, even if the threat of a fourth wave remains.
Easter means renewal, growth, rebirth — literally a new season. It has a vitality to it, an energy, a sense of hope.
Trees are blooming — not an entirely good thing, I realize — and gardens are evincing their first green sprigs of growth. Beaches are warming up. Frisbees are flying, baseballs thumping into leather gloves.
That’s the way every Easter feels, or should feel, even in years when winter lingers. But even those Easters have that sense of rebirth because we know that the chill will lift within days, within weeks.
We couldn’t say that at this time last year.
Easter isn’t back all the way, but it feels like it’s coming back. The White House Easter egg hunt is still canceled.
Easter is not.