Spring is an important time of year for three of the world’s major religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And this spring, the contours of Passover, Lent and Ramadan have shifted as the faithful contend with the backdrop of coronavirus.
On Palm Sunday, the Harper family of Macon stood about 10 feet away from their neighbors, Paul and Marcia Lewis, on the Lewis' own porch. Smack in the middle was Flussie, the neighborhood tabby cat, seemingly in awe of what was going on.
Waving palm fronds, the neighbors sang church hymns.
Why? Matt Harper says they've tried singing with church members over the Internet on Zoom. It just doesn't work.
“You can't sing together on Zoom because there's a delay,” Harper said. “And so every time one person starts to sing, the other people realize that they're a few seconds ahead. So they slow down to match the delay, which means the other people have to slow down.”
“It's really impossible. So it's really great to be with neighbors and be able to see in time.”
So, for sermons, Harper said Zoom will be fine. But to give voice to the music of the church, it will take neighbors, a porch and a safe distance.
Muslims are getting ready to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, which begins April 23. Normally, after a day of fasting, families and communities come together after sundown to break their fast. Naseer Hamayun of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Center in Atlanta says they'll miss that tradition this year.
“Yes, it is a great regret, too, that we will not be able to hold our dinners due to the pandemic, social distancing, due to COVID-19 epidemic,” Humayun said. “But you know, this does not mean that you still cannot remain connected to our faith and community.”
During the following month, families can still do their daily and weekly prayers together at home. And like people of other faiths, Muslims will use technology to stay connected. And Humayun said they will also serve their communities during Ramadan.
“Despite these restrictions while staying safe, we can help out with activities like Muslims for Life,” Humayun said. “We are partnering with the American Red Cross where we can collect much needed blood for hospitals. And for this week we can open our mosques around the country for the whole essential services of blood drives.”
In Columbus, Pastor Emanuel Vasconcelos, or Pastor Manny as he's known, will lead Easter service at St Ann's Catholic Church like he did Palm Sunday service: to empty pews.
Well, the pews were sort of empty. Taking a cue from a priest in Italy, Manny taped more than 600 photos of his parishioners to the church pews. The better to remember his flock.
“Well, I do look at the photos. I take time, sometimes before mass begins or after mass is over, to walk around the pew and just to remember certain people and think of them and pray for them,” Vasconcelos said.
“There was one photo that I thought was interesting. A parishioner and his wife were expecting and I hadn't seen their new baby,” Vasconcelos said. “There they posted … they sent a picture of their new baby with them. And so I got to see the baby up close, even in a photograph.”
In Savannah, Jonathan Rabb led a Passover Seder for his far flung family, via Zoom.
“You know, these were the questions that the rabbis asked thousands of years ago,” Rabb joked. “Do you mute the computer, not use the computer?”
Joking aside, Rabb said that while today's hardships don't compare to what the Jews experienced in Egypt, there's something to be learned from celebrating a holiday about a plague during a pandemic.
“I'm just hoping that we don't forget that part of Passover is that every year you don't get to forget. And this is thousands of years ago,” Rabb said. “And did it actually happen that way? I don't know. But the whole point is. That you don't get to forget. And that is my fear right now with what we're going through.”
“How quickly will we really forget?”