Two years ago, my husband and I took our two young sons, ages 2 ½ and 10 months, to a conference in Phoenix, Arizona. My parents attend the same conference every year, so we looked at it as a working family reunion of sorts. My husband elected to fly out on the (cheaper) redeye with only a personal item, but in an attempt to keep bedtime consistent, the boys and I would leave earlier in the evening, meeting my parents at their hotel. After a somewhat hurried trip to the airport, we discovered the earlier flight was delayed. Good news: my husband could wait with me at the gate. Bad news: our flight would now only leave an hour before his. So much for keeping bedtime.
When boarding finally began, I was worn out and ready to fall into the hotel bed. However, we still had a 2-hour flight and a 10-minute shuttle to the airport hotel ahead of us. And, despite the hundreds of flights I’ve traveled in my lifetime, flying still makes me a little nervous. My heart raced through takeoff and initial turbulence, but when the pilot indicated we had reached cruising altitude I settled a bit. I settled into my seat to read “Curious George Goes to the Hospital” another twelve times and pass out the remainder of the stickers and Cheerios from my carry-on bag. Finally, we began our descent into Sky Harbor airport. I could see the flashing lights of the landing strip and felt myself relaxing. I counted down the seconds until touchdown, “5-4-3-2…” But all of a sudden, when it seemed as if we were just feet from safely landing, the engines gunned to life again and the plane shot back up into the air, immediately turning sideways in a sharp turn. My heart raced, and I heard others in the fuselage questioning out loud–“What is happening?” I did my best to appear calm for my sons’ sake as we circled above the airport for a terrifyingly long seven minutes. Finally, the flight deck came over the loudspeaker to inform us we had been too close to another landing plane and had been directed to circle for another few minutes before trying again.
Difficult seasons often bring false endings.
This has been a hard year–we’ve said our earthly goodbye to two very special people and to two very special places. My husband’s work responsibilities tripled as he taught three math classes and organized the accreditation process in addition to his normal administrative duties. Worn down, tired, and ready for some reprieve, we looked to the calendar for hope. We counted down the days until the end of accreditation and our end-of-school-year family trip.
And then the world flipped. Social distancing, remote learning, COVID-19, quarantine, and questions without answers fill every day. We try to remain calm for the sake of our kids, but inside we beg for answers and assurance. While my role as a stay-at-home mom has not altered much, my role as a prayer warrior and friend changes every day: family members have lost their jobs, fear for their safety, or are working triple overtime in the medical field or police force.
About two-thousand years ago, eleven friends huddled together. The world as they knew it had shattered, and they were filled with fear. John 20:19a reads, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…” They knew what Jesus had said before his death (Matthew 16:21, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”) but those words must have felt so distant after the horrifying events of the weekend. They had counted down the days and were waiting for answers, everything feeling surreal and a little too real at the same time.
It all feels a little bit surreal and a little too real at the same time. It’s almost like we’re circling above, watching the pandemic play out, unsure of when and how we’ll be able to land from this crazy ride.
It’s Holy Week. Every year I look forward to this time of worshipping with my church family as we recall the events of Passover, Good Friday and the Resurrection. The symbolism, songs, and celebrations push me to meditate on the every-day reality that Christ’s death and resurrection bring: hope. But I know the ending of the story. I walk out of the Good Friday service sorrowful because of my sin, but the promised hope of the Sunday sunrise service (and hot breakfast!) keeps the sorrow from overwhelming me. But this year, Easter will look different for all of us.
This Easter, we’re huddled in our rooms, gathered together in groups of less than ten, disappointed, confused, lonely, angry, full of anxiety and fear. Our Jesus feels absent.
But there’s hope. John 20 tells us,
“Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb …“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus didn’t say, “stop crying, Mary” or “why didn’t you trust me?” but instead asked Mary to share her sorrow with him.
Two years ago the plane landed safely and without any other complications. We went on to enjoy a wonderful conference filled with family and sunshine.
Right now we’re unsure of exactly when and how the circling plane of COVID-19 and effects will land, but this we do know: our God is faithful. This Easter, with all of the extras stripped away, I want to come near to Jesus and tell him why I am crying. And I want to see, as if for the first time, that He came. He died. He rose. He will come again.