While the coronavirus has halted many of life’s normal activities, Colorado Springs religious leaders say the pandemic won’t stop important spring holidays from being observed and celebrated.
“The holiday goes on no matter what,” said Rabbi Jay Sherwood, who leads the 250 households that make up Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs.
Passover, recounting the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt, starts Wednesday at sundown and ends April 16 at sundown.
This weekend’s Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday mark the death by crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the Christian savior.
The Islamic month of Ramadan begins at sundown April 23 and ends at sundown May 23. The holiday commemorates Allah revealing to the prophet Mohammed the Quran, the Muslim holy book.
Although the ideologies differ, the three observances share the common attributes of prayers, practices and people uniting in faith.
While the customs will look and feel different this year, they’ll have the same spirit of renewal, religious leaders say.
Passover is the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday because “you celebrate it with family and friends around the dining room table,” Sherwood said.
But like most other houses of worship, the local temple is closed, and large gatherings are prohibited. Instead of Passover’s traditional Seder feast being enjoyed in groups, believers will get together virtually on Zoom, FaceTime and Google Hangouts, Sherwood said.
He’s been delivering Friday and Saturday night Shabbat, religious school and Torah study virtually to a growing audience that’s topping in-person services. Sherwood also has conducted virtual funeral services and offered virtual cooking classes for Passover dishes. On Thursday, the second night of Passover Seder, he’ll lead prayers on the online platform Zoom.
“We move forward despite the virus, the sadness, the fear of not knowing what’s coming next,” Sherwood said.
The rabbi likens the Passover message of leaving slavery behind for freedom that lies ahead to coronavirus times — viewed as the 11th plague to some.
“Part of the story is wandering in the desert for 40 years,” Sherwood said. “This year maybe we’ll wander for 40 days or 40 weeks; eventually, we’ll make it to the Promised Land — that time the virus will disappear, the desert of uncertainty will lift.”
This weekend is considered the holiest of the year for Christians, often packing churches with crowds of worshippers.
But this year, many churches will offer Easter services online, some streaming live, some recorded, but all conveying the same message of hope and redemption that Jesus’ death imparts.
New Life Church in Colorado Springs, the state’s second-largest evangelical Christian congregation, normally draws 20,000 people for in-person Easter services, said the Rev. Brady Boyd, senior pastor.
Moving services online hasn’t lessened the thirst for people seeking God, he said. Viewership has “exploded,” with 40,000 to 60,000 people watching weekly Sunday services electronically, Boyd said, adding he expects 100,000 to tune in on Easter.
“In some ways, this virus has awakened people for the need for church,” he said. “It’s been a rainbow in the middle of a storm.”
While New Life has been livestreaming its Sunday services for years, Boyd said it’s been hard for him to stand in an empty 5,000-seat auditorium and preach, as he has in recent weeks.
“It’s a strange feeling, eerie even,” he said.
Boyd said of his 53 years, this will be “the first Easter Sunday I will not be in a physical church setting. I’ll be watching it online, like everybody else.”
Boyd is recording his Easter service for Sunday broadcast online. It also will air on KRDO-TV.
“The church is more than just a building,” he said. “Even though we’ve had to close our doors, and times are tough — people are sick, they’ve lost their jobs, businesses and nonprofits are struggling — don’t be discouraged. Have online watch parties, chat, call people. We can still celebrate together.”
Coronavirus restrictions also can have a positive impact on Ramadan, Kamel Elwazeir, president of the Islamic Society of Colorado Springs said. The mosque has about 150 members representing more than 20 nationalities.
The ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar requires Muslims to fast, or abstain from eating and drinking, from sunup to sundown every day for one month. Among its virtues, fasting teaches humility, empathy and patience, Elwazeir said.
“We try to bring everything that’s good about the human being — compassion, community, honesty, justice — into interaction,” he said. “We are educated to practice it during the month and continue to live in accordance with the way we do during fasting.”
The holiday revolves around spiritual fortitude and kinship, Elwazeir said, as believers usually break their daily fast communally.
“Having Ramadan without a congregation of people is alien to our cultural upbringing,” he said. “We share cooking, food and meals, we pray together, we listen to the Quran every night during Ramadan.
“It’s a beloved month for every Muslim across the globe.”
Not being able to celebrate in community for at least the first part of Ramadan could return people to the roots of the holiday, he said.
“We think this is a major test from the Almighty to us,” he said. “It’s time to rediscover the original spirit and true essence of Ramadan.”
Breaking the fast with simple foods, thanking God for bounties that are often taken for granted, spending quality family time together, unplugging electronically for periods and reaffirming one’s faith are among his suggestions.
“This time is not just about filling our pantries with food; it’s about reconsidering, rethinking, reflecting what God has given us,” Elwazeir said.
“Our weakness in front of a small virus shows us God’s power over us. This test needs to bring us back to God and bring God back in our lives.”
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