I was really looking forward to Easter this year. After sitting in front of our TV two years ago, watching services streamed from post-apocalyptic empty sanctuaries to nervously stepping back into masked and temperature-checked in-person worship last Easter, I was ready for a pull-out-all -the-stops celebration.
But for the first time in as long as I can remember (last two years not withstanding), I did not sing in an Easter choir. Earlier this week, I noticed some cold symptoms—sore throat, a little congestion. I immediately took a home Covid test which was negative and so for the most part, went about my business including a choir rehearsal and two Holy Week services. But yesterday, whatever virus had taken up residence migrated south into my vocal cords. My voice was reduced to a whisper and singing anything above middle C was impossible. I was relegated to the pews.
But despite my disappointment at not being able to sing in a truly glorious Easter celebration, I will say there is something to be gleaned from sitting back and allowing worship to happen without anxiously paging through my folder for the next anthem or hymn. It was a chance to be still and really listen for the voice of God which came through loud and clear in the rector’s sermon. It was almost like God was saying to me, “Ok, just stop multi-tasking for an hour or two and pay attention.” And it was a chance to people-watch. Currently my husband and I are dividing our time between two different churches, which, odd as it sounds, is working well for us. This morning I was at the church where we are relative newcomers so I could observe in anonymity.
At the first service, an elderly woman sat in the pew adjacent to mine. She was stooped and frail and yet, when the procession came up the aisle, she not only sang Christ the Lord is Risen Today, with gusto, she kept time by swinging her right arm as if she was conducting the brass choir. She was the picture of joy. (Although later she was less than joyful when told she could no longer intinct her wafer in the communion wine. The Episcopal Church is still trying to sort itself out when it comes to receiving communion.)
I watched people re-connect with family members and friends they don’t often see. I watched the brass choir sing the hymns and service music when they weren’t playing. They weren’t just there as paid musicians but were engaged in the worship experience. At the beginning of the second service, a woman in front of me turned around to watch for the beginning of the procession with as much anticipation as if she were looking for a bride to come up the aisle. I saw the expressions on people’s faces as they took communion—gratitude, humility, smiles, even a few tears. I watched teenagers proudly carry the processional cross, entwined with Easter lilies and later one of those same teens brought the tray for pew communions. Seeing them gave me hope that the church may yet last for another generation or two, despite the media’s dire predictions of the imminent demise of organized religion.
Yes, I missed the singing, but I realized this morning that sometimes I’m missing the point. The opportunity to be an observer instead of a participant allowed some much-needed space for other things in my mind and my spirit, and I’m grateful for that.