Church bells rang across Winnipeg on Sunday morning, welcoming parishioners to the first in-person Easter services held in the city since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than two years ago.
While some churches have opted to keep their doors closed and stream their services online, others have welcomed worshipers inside, inviting them to gather once again on the holiest day of the Christian liturgical calendar.
Earlier in the week, the possibility of in-person Easter services appeared under threat for a third consecutive year. This time, however, the culprit was not pandemic public health restrictions, but an early spring snowstorm, warned by Environment Canada, could be historic in its devastation.
Snow did fall in Winnipeg, but not in the amount predicted by meteorologists, clearing the way for in-person Easter services to go ahead as planned.
In the village of Osborne, parishioners of Holy Rosary Catholic Church on River Avenue walked through the doors for Easter Mass in the morning and early afternoon, with some stopping to lay flowers at a statue of bronze in the parish courtyard.
The statue is of Padre Pio, an Italian saint famous for the stigmata on his hands – circular wounds across his palms resembling the wounds Jesus Christ suffered during his crucifixion.
But this month of April is not only a holy time for Christians in Winnipeg, but also for members of other religious communities.
The Jewish holiday of Passover, commemorating the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, began Friday and continues through April 23. And Muslims are currently observing Ramadan, a month of fasting, prayer, reflection and community.
By a twist of fate, the calendar has fallen to 2022 – a year in which people of all faiths (or no faith at all) struggle to get back to normal as the COVID-19 pandemic stubbornly progresses – so that members of Abrahamic religions observe all holy days at the same time.
When I was a kid, Easter meant little more to me than an obligatory appearance at church, followed by all the chocolate I could swallow. But as I got older, especially when my family, friends and loved ones passed away, it took on new meaning and symbolism.
Easter Sunday – at least in the church where I was baptized – ends an annual cycle that begins on Ash Wednesday, when priests smear parishioners’ foreheads with the sign of the cross and whisper a reminder that they too will die one day.
It continues through the 40 days and nights of Lent, depicting Christ’s temptation in the desert, and until Palm Sunday — the start of Holy Week — which celebrates his arrival in Jerusalem.
And it all leads to Calvary, where three crosses stood on a hill, and a resurrection three days later, marking a vicarious victory over sin and death for all mankind.
It is a time when Christians of all persuasions are called to reflect on the Last Things: death, judgment, heaven, hell.
This Easter, I think of all those Manitobans lost to the pandemic — the 1,759 who have succumbed to COVID-19 itself and the countless others not captured in their ranks — who will never see our society do these stumbling attempts at a return to normalcy.
Those who did not hear any church bells ringing on their last Easter Sunday on this earth.
Wherever one comes across questions of theology, and whatever one thinks awaits us when we cross over to the other side, hopefully we can all spare a prayer – or a warm thought – for them this holy season, in the hope that wherever they are, they are at peace.
Ryan Thorpe loves the rhythm of daily news, the feel of a large format in his hands and the stress of endless deadlines hanging over his head.
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