Easter 2020: The First Time Coronavirus Keeps Churches around the Globe from Gathering in 2,000 Years

Empty chairs.
Empty chairs.
By Ruth WangApril 14th, 2020

Last Sunday was Easter, the most significant holiday for the Christian community universally, but many churches were unable to hold on-site celebrations because of the pandemic outbreak.

"Because of the worldwide COVID-19 virus pandemic, millions of local churches are going to be unable to meet together this Easter. Now this has never happened in 2000 years," said Rick Warren, author of the best seller Purpose Driven Life and senior pastor of Saddleback, a U.S. mega-church.

China is in the process of resuming production in different sectors, but the church is still suspending its on-site gatherings as the outbreak is not yet over. Many churches celebrated the Week of Good Friday and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus in different online formats.

Bin, a pastor from eastern China who was born born in the post-90s, observes how the outbreak is a huge blow, particularly to urban churches made up of the working-class and with a large proportion of elderly persons.

Many churches have to learn to transform their on-site services to online services in the midst of the crisis. "It's another huge opportunity, and it's going to be very difficult for many churches to change from on-site to online. This is similar to the time when people doubted the usefulness of e-commerce, but then SARS broke out, leading to the rise of e-commerce. Now this outbreak is providing an opportunity for the churches who respond rapidly to be revived. Till now, churches have been providing worship services and ministries online for nearly three months. Most churches are still struggling to adapt.... Anyway, no matter how different their theological views may be, it is time to put aside set opinions and learn from each other."

Undeniably, online services are much less sacred and sacramental than on-site services. It is also true that outbreaks and isolations cannot prevent love and faith, but we have seen that on-site services and religious rituals which we are so used to have a substance that online services cannot replace.

"It's also a time to examine everyone's true faith," wrote a young pastor, Brother Damo.

"During normal Easter commemorations and worship services in a public setting, there are constraints on the actions and behavior of people. Because of the supervision and instruction of pastors, the atmosphere of worship during an onsite church service is not easily disturbed. However, the actions of people during online Easter worship services remains unknown. Whether there is an atmosphere of worship during these events is complex and difficult to be sure of.

It is not clear how many people are truly engaged in online events. In long-distance services, the pretended solemnity and self-discipline of attendees is no longer necessary. There are no pastors present to supervise and constraints on proper behavior are gone.  However, the biggest drawback of the online service is the weakening of the atmosphere and feeling of the Lord's presence. Yet, the most important part of services commemorating Good Friday and Easter is creating an  atmosphere where believers feel the presence of the Lord."

Just as it is not easy for believers to celebrate Easter online, the same can be said for pastors. Pastor Bin, born in the post-90s, said: "As pastors we may not have adapted to the outbreak and online services, but we need to always attend these services anyway. Maybe the online service is a bit boring and not as appealing as something like Tik Tok; maybe it has no sense of ritual and seems a little perfunctory; maybe it is a bit disorganised; it isn't vibrant enough. The absence of believers is a church's greatest crisis. So maybe this Easter there isn't a sense of sacred ceremony. There are no wonderful performances in church, no gatherings of warm friendship, no sense of being moved by being present. But please support your own church's Easter celebration, support your pastors, and support your church. We don't require much from you but your involvement."

He added, "Would it not be OK for you to sing a hymn when your pastor invites you to do so? Would it not be OK for you to pray when your pastor asks you to do so? Would it not be OK for you to open your heart when your pastor asks you to share a testimony? Would it not be OK for you to give your pastors a little support?

"Let's make this Easter worthwhile;

Let's make this Easter an opportunity for us to gather again;

Let's make this Easter a chance to shine for the Lord.

If you will, invite your whole family to join your church's online Easter service, so that together we may experience the Lord's grace and be strengthened through connecting with others in this way. "

-  Translated by Charlie Li

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