By Peter Skov-Jakobsen, bishop, diocese of Copenhagen
Over the last few days we have been worried within the church. We have been worried in the church during the last few days. The possibility that churches might be opened again to some extent during Easter raised a lot of questions for most of us. Luckily, it has now been decided that the churches remain closed for a while longer.
Like many others, I feel it is a great loss not to be able to go to church during Easter. But I am happy with the decision to keep the churches closed. The church should not be a place where there is danger of infection and should not have special treatment at a time where we all have to keep a distance to each other and sorely miss each other.
At the moment we are giving up many things. We are changing our lives. We are learning to live with moderation. We feel deprived, however in a meaningful way, because we are doing it for the sake of our fellow human beings. If I can contribute to saving human lives, preventing the virus to spread then it makes sense to change the way I am living.
There are many others who are feeling deprived in Denmark and in the rest of the world. Some suffer deprivation because they are being persecuted because of their faith, others are living in poverty, or in prison, or feeling alienated, falling into depression or other mental illnesses.
We are people with something on our heart. Thus it is important that we focus on what we can do and not what we should have been doing if the world would have been different. We must be church in different ways during these weeks. I am mostly concerned about those who are forgotten, and lonely, those who have no-one to talk to, and who are now all alone. My thoughts go out to those who are feeling desperate and those who do not dare to ask for help, fearing that they would become even more isolated.
The other day I passed a young woman sitting on a bench, looking very sad. She looked like she just needed someone to talk to. I cannot forget her face and I am sorry I did not have the courage to go and ask if she needed to talk. It would not have been any trouble at all to take a walk with her in the park.
There are many of us in the church who are going to miss the feeling of community in the church during Easter. The words, the texts, the music, the conversations, eating together – it will all be calling to us, making us long for it.
A few Sundays ago I officiated a service in Vor Frue (the Dome of Copenhagen). There were only a sacristan, a verger, four singers, and an organist, and I was preaching in an empty church. The church should have been full of people. It was the day we were supposed to have celebrated a new translation of the Bible. Strangely, and despite the circumstances I did not feel alone. You were all there. I did not have the feeling that I was doing something meaningless- although I rather would have shaken hands, given hugs, laughed and cried together, something I must admit I look forward to when I will be seeing you all again.
I look forward to seeing the play of life continue. I know where my hope and my trust come from. We are all on the way to Emmaus, and there is someone who walks with us who makes our hearts burn and makes us open to life and who also gives me the courage to face the loss and the grief and still insists on living.
Christianity has always been characterized by the temple being carried forward by people. The temple is not just a building, it consists of the people who are full of trust, charity, forgiveness. That is what I have experienced these last weeks. We are church outside the walls. No-one can claim that the church is a normal house. It is a house where one can seek creative silence, a house where one can sit and regain strength, and where the music can make me experience life itself.
I will never forget this Easter. I simply think that the very loss we will be experiencing this year can show us the strength of community and the gatherings where we celebrate Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. In the future I will appreciate contact with other people even more. I will try to be more present.
The last weeks I have learned a lot about illness, suffering, and death – and about loss. I am missing many people and I am thankful for every one of them. What happens at Easter teaches me that resurrection is not a magic wand, magically removing all the suffering and longing in the world. We still fight, we fail and we are guilty. But because of the resurrection there is a possibility that the world can be transformed. Resurrection is a defiant new beginning. Spring is upon us. Life is blooming. The kingdom of God is coming.