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How Christians worldwide celebrated Easter

Lots of churches livestreamed to maintain social distancing, but others found more tangible ways to worship together

How Christians worldwide celebrated Easter

Caden and Caitlin Humphrey hold paintings they made for Easter. (Handout)

The video shook as missionary Brendan Maynard repositioned his phone and added more tape to hold it in place on a chair. One piece of tape obscured the shot of the table across the room, but he adjusted to clear the view. The Facebook livestream had already started, and Maynard’s voice came from behind the phone: “Hello everybody! We’re just having some COVID crisis here with a lot of electrical tape.” 

When he finished adjusting the phone, he stepped out from behind the camera and took his spot next to the table with the blue tablecloth. On it, he and his wife had laid out all of the elements of a Messianic Passover Seder for this livestream presentation from their home in New Zealand. 

This Easter season, restrictions on large gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic forced Christians around the world to find new ways to celebrate Holy Week. For many churches and Christians like Maynard, technology was the primary medium through which they connected while practicing social distancing. But some found more hands-on ways to celebrate Easter together. 

Maynard and his wife work as missionaries with Chosen People Ministries. They mainly share the gospel with Israeli backpackers visiting the area. He also travels around the world demonstrating Messianic Passover Seders as a ministry tool for Christians. The Messianic Seder is a Christ-centered version of the symbolic Jewish Passover meal. Since the Exodus, Jews have celebrated the Passover annually to remember how God delivered them from Egypt, but many of the symbols in the meal also pointed forward to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

Chosen People scheduled Maynard to present a Seder in Texas over Easter before returning to New Zealand to lead 27 non-Christian Israeli tourists through the Seder. But COVID-19 spiked his travel plans and forced him and his family to stay home. 

Instead, he and his wife set up a Wednesday-night livestream and presented a Messianic Seder for family and friends back in the United States. About 30 Facebook accounts joined as Maynard narrated the steps in the Seder and discussed the ways the Old Testament Passover pointed forward to Christ. During the demonstration, Maynard explained each element on the table in front of him. Later that day, Maynard recorded another Seder presentation that he posted on YouTube for a New Zealand church to view during its Easter morning service. 

In lieu of in-person gatherings during coronavirus lockdowns, many churches resorted to streaming pre-recorded or live programs for their Holy Week celebrations. But some, like Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., had other plans for Easter. 

On Palm Sunday, the church hosted a drive-in service in the church parking lot. “It was a very solid turnout. Over 150 cars,” said Pastor Aaron Harvie. Church leaders spaced the cars 6 feet from each other and set up a transmitter to broadcast the service on an FM radio frequency. Harvie preached from a platform at the front of the lot. As people drove in, he said they rolled down their windows and laughed and smiled at each other from a distance. Kids popped their heads out of their parents’ sunroofs. “One sweet old lady just sang me a song,” he said. During the service, people honked their horns and flashed their lights instead of normal applause or “Amens.” “It was a way to at least physically see one another,” said Harvie. “And you could just see the connection happening with our people. … There was just an uplifting of peoples’ spirits.”  

Highview had planned to do another drive-in for Easter Sunday in addition to a livestreamed service later. But, during the week, the mayor of Louisville banned drive-in services, forcing the church to rely solely on the livestream. “We want to be a help to our community and not a hinderance. So we decided it is best in this time to adhere,” said Harvie. The livestreamed service on Easter morning had more than 2,600 views, 100 more than the number of attendees on a typical Sunday.

Other churches have seen their livestreamed service increase their reach even more significantly. Livestreaming services has given a church in Lebanon the opportunity to reach people in their homes. Pastor Pierre Francis at the Baptist Evangelical Church of Mieh Mieh has been livestreaming services from his empty church building since the country’s government began restricting large gatherings about four weeks ago. Although his church usually has a maximum of 100 attendees, he said the livestreamed services have been getting as many as 1,500 views: “People are eager now. Especially these days that they are closed in their houses, they are so eager … to listen and sometimes they write and ask questions.” 

For the Easter morning service, Francis preached in his suit and tie from a couch in his home. His wife, Jill, arranged flowers on a table next to the couch to brighten up the shot. She said these remote services are hard for people in Lebanon, especially since it is “a very sociable society.” As Francis explained, “We miss the people. We miss the worship together. We miss seeing each other.” He’s especially concerned for the elderly in his congregation who may be unable to access the online messages. 

But Francis himself also faces unique difficulties as a preacher without a physical congregation. “We try to be the congregation while he’s preaching at home to make it a bit more real for him,” said Jill. “It’s also difficult for him to be speaking into a phone.” 

Some churches found other ways to bring hands-on elements to this year’s Easter celebrations. Midland Evangelical Free Church in Midland, Mich., made family Easter bags. Kristi Smith, the children’s ministry leader, heard about digital activities for children, but she wanted something more hands-on to give families to help them celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. She and a small team filled brown gift bags with items including activity pages, supplies for a watercolor craft, a Holy Week timeline, and directions for family activities like baking “resurrection rolls.” The church’s parking lot is one of the pickup locations for school-sponsored meals during the coronavirus lockdowns, so Smith and her team parked a mini-van next to the school bus on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. From there, they handed Easter bags to parents through their car windows as kids waved from back seats. 

In Middleburg Heights, Ohio, Grace Church celebrated Easter by delivering lilies to hospitals, nursing homes, and the homes of shut-ins and widows in the congregation. A local flower nursery donated more than 5,000 unsold lilies to the church. Volunteer drivers spent the week delivering lilies around the Cleveland area. Joanna Thelander, a member at Grace Church who helped organize the deliveries, said some drivers threw in other gifts: One young mom included cards, and another woman included homemade facemasks with Bible verses attached. 

Dawn Bentley, a homeschooling mother from the church, and her daughter delivered 16 lilies to area widows on Maundy Thursday. They called the women to make sure they were home and left the lilies on their doorsteps: “Even just the phone conversations were great. We were able to say hello, catch up a little bit, find out if they had any needs.” The phone calls gave Bentley an opportunity to pray with the women. During a couple deliveries, women waved or blew kisses from the windows.

Handout

Grace Church in Ohio delivered Easter lilies to area widows last week. (Handout)

Grace Church had to rely on online streaming for Holy Week services. For Good Friday, its denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) prepared a video service CMA churches across the country. The denomination’s president delivered the message and led communion from his kitchen table. On Easter Sunday, Grace Church prepared its own service. In-person attendance on a typical Sunday is around 4,000 people, and the church estimates that about 6,000 people have been watching its online services. But Grace Church’s lead pastor, Jonathan Schaeffer, is concerned for elderly people in their congregation: “There’s loneliness among many senior adults who live alone and aren’t tech-savvy, or don’t have Wi-Fi. They feel pretty isolated right now.” To help these attendees, church volunteers are calling them every two weeks to check in and talk. 

Handout

Children in Latvia watch a livestreamed Easter service. (Handout)

The congregation at Ventspils Baptist Church in Ventspils, Latvia, reached out to their own elderly during Holy Week by preparing and delivering packages with communion elements (the volunteers who delivered them did not administer communion). Around 50 members over the age of 70 received the packages before a livestreamed Maundy Thursday service. Lasma Asme, a leader of the women’s ministry at the church, joined her husband on some of deliveries. She waited in the car as her husband brought the packages to the front doors of the shut-ins. “They felt cheered that we are thinking about them,” she said. 

The church also livestreamed services on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In preparation for the Easter Sunday service, members of the church’s choir individually recorded themselves singing a worship song and mixed a video of the individual performances. Asme is a member of the choir and contributed a video of herself singing. The church included the song in its 7 a.m. livestreamed Easter service. Asme and her three children watched the service from their home while her husband helped with the livestream technology at the church.

On Good Friday, while the rest of her family slept, Asme took her husband’s keys to the church and went into the building alone. “I just sat and cried, and I felt like my heart was broken,” she said. She misses being with other church members. She said Sunday that watching the choir’s mixed song gave members joy and unity. But it’s not the same as worshipping together: “I really wanted to be with them. ... I really realized how much I miss my church and … being together and singing together.”

Leah Hickman

Leah Hickman

Leah is a reporter for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute and Hillsdale College graduate. Leah resides in Cleveland, Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @leahmhickman.