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Churches to Celebrate Easter Online, In-person

Pastor Rudy Sheptock

By Rachel Rogish

ERMA – Hope, joy, and promise of a resurrection: These three compose the bedrock of Christianity.  

Life continues, even during a global pandemic. The world changes as social and political unrest creates a backdrop of uncertainty.  

Mental health issues leave many stranded and feeling alone. Yet, for Christians, Easter is “ground zero,” even as the religious landscape changes.  

What is Easter? 

Also called “Pascha,” Easter celebrates Jesus Christ’s resurrection  after his crucifixion, in 30 A.D. According to the New Testament, Jesus willingly died as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Jewish leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy in claiming to be the Son of God and turned him over to Roman officials, i.e., Pontius Pilate, to be executed as a political criminal.  

Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb, lent by Joseph of Arimathea, according to Biblical accounts. After three days and nights, Jesus rose from the dead, as stated in all four Gospel accounts. 

“Pascha” is a Latin translation of the original Hebrew word “Passover.” Christians believe that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy as the sacrificial lamb. The Last Supper, according to Biblical texts, occurred during the Passover meal shared by Christ and his disciples.  

The earliest recorded celebration of Easter dates from the 300s, in Europe and modern-day Turkey.  

According to Rev. Glenn Scheyhing, of Tabernacle United Methodist Church, in Erma, Easter represents everlasting life and hope for the world.  

Scheyhing March 16, via Zoom, said he tries to relive Good Friday in its “dark and somber” aspects before Easter Sunday. Good Friday is traditionally observed as the day when Jesus was crucified.  

“It builds anticipation,” he said.  

Empty Tomb, Full Hearts 

“If I don’t really believe in the truth of Easter, I would have quit the ministry a long time ago,” Pastor Rudy Sheptock, of The Lighthouse Church, in Court House, wrote, in a March 18 email.  

For Sheptock, the message of Easter enables him to endure hard times as he battles prostate cancer.  

“Easter is the Super Bowl of Christianity. Without the reality of the empty tomb, our faith is nothing more than window dressing, but because Jesus lives, believers have a real reason and purpose in the midst of no matter what happens on the journey of life,” Sheptock said.  

“We live not trying to achieve love, but already knowing we are cherished by the Creator who made us. This is not all there is. It sure raises the value of every single life,” he added.  

The Lighthouse Church will provide four, in-person Easter services April 4. All services will be online, as well.  

Throughout the pandemic, technology provided opportunities for worship for those who are not able, or comfortable, to return corporately. Will online and livestream options remain after Covid has passed?  

“Not everybody is ready yet, and I am not going to guilt anyone into coming,” Sheptock answered.  

“We try to meet everyone from their point of entry,” Sheptock said.  

For Scheyhing, the path ahead is unclear, but he is confident in the church’s mission.  

“We plan to keep doing what we’re doing,” he said. One in-person service is offered at Tabernacle each Sunday, at 9:15 am. At 11 a.m., Scheyhing provides an online service as he sings, accompanied by the guitar, and gives a short message.  

“We didn’t let anything hold us back,” Scheyhing explained, referring to gathering corporately again. Masks and social distancing guidelines are followed.  

Because of Jesus’ atonement for sin and resurrection, Sheptock and Scheyhing enter the “new normal” with hope.  

“There is nothing bigger than the power of God. He is the promise keeper and, yes, this world likes to rain on our parade. I believe God gives us the joy of jumping in the puddles,” Sheptock said.  

Different Yet Eternal  

Easter heralds new beginnings, both in the human heart and  nature. Rev. Nicole Duran, of First Presbyterian Church, in Cape May, testifies to the changes brought about by Covid while remaining hopeful for the future.  

Duran said meeting on the beach, in 2020, was the “silver lining” during the summer.  

“It was a kick in the pants to get back out there,” Duran explained.  

She believes meeting outdoors, in the public eye, allowed more people to listen and participate while observing government mandates.  

With an older congregation, Duran said meeting inside a larger sanctuary is a blessing. New members have joined First Presbyterian Church, despite the pandemic.  

“The building is less of a barrier,” Duran said.  

A sunrise service will be held at Cape May Cove, according to Duran, along with two services at 9 and 11 a.m.  

Pastor Tim West, of Seashore Community Church of the Nazarene, in Erma, is also finding new ways to minister.  

West’s Easter begins with a sunrise service, at 7 a.m., at Harbor View, in Cape May, followed by breakfast from 9 to 10 a.m. at the church. The breakfast will feature either prepackaged foods or line service.  

A corporate service will begin at 11 a.m., with seating available in the sanctuary and ministry/fellowship center. Visitors and members can also watch the service outside on TV screens, or sit in their cars and listen.  

For West, Easter represents “new things and new life.” Even with the hardship of Covid, the Christian church will endure and continue.  

“I shared that our goal should never be to get back to normal,” Sheptock said.  

“I sense that God wants us to adjust the load on the road, so that we don’t miss His miracles along the way. The church is not a building; it is the body of Christ. We are the church. We are the community of Christ’s presence in the world we live in. It is not about trying to force God into our agenda, but be ready to enter the wild blue yonder of God’s infinite grace and truth,” he concluded.  

Faith Matters is an ongoing series exploring the connection between individuals and their faith, impacting their families, community, and beyond. Those with a story of faith to share should contact the writer at rrogish@cmcherald.com.    

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