After more than a year of shutdowns and lockdowns, quarantines and self-imposed exiles, this Easter looks to be different than the last — different than any before, but still better this year.

For people who usually spend their Easter in their church, this year, in many cases, offers an opportunity that last Easter did not — for people of faith to gather together to celebrate one of the holiest days in the modern church calendar.

While still under several suggestions and guidelines, churches this year will be able to hold in-person services. All this return to life is happening at a time in which churches celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That was not lost on Jason Lowe, executive pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pikeville and the associational mission strategist for the Pike Association of Southern Baptists, who recently spoke with Appalachian Newspapers for a story about the return to semi-normal church life.

“It’s funny that things are starting to open back up, and it feels like we’re coming back to life in a lot of ways, to life as we once knew it, which matches the Easter story,” Lowe said. “It’s such a joyous, joyful experience to celebrate the resurrection that He who was dead is now alive, and it mirrors the experience we’re beginning to see with the pandemic. … Then, on top of that, just the season of spring. The trees have been dead for the past few months, but you’re starting to see leaves start to bud out on the trees, and people are going to start mowing their grass again soon. All these different things point toward the same theme of new life.”

New life, resurrected life, all these things bring about celebration within us. For those who believe in the Gospel, the resurrection of Jesus brings about a feeling of unspeakable joy. As a result, Easter has always been a time where the church gathers joyously. Often, there are people in the church on Easter who never make it any other day of the year and families gather together to go to their “home” churches, wherever those may be.

While this restoration to a semblance of normalcy is occurring, we must keep in mind that we’re not quite out of the woods yet with COVID-19.

Because of pandemic fatigue and numerous other aspects of how long we’ve been in this thing, people are beginning to let down their guards some. And that’s proper, the evidence shows numbers are falling in many places, including here, and our vaccination programs will ultimately likely become a case study in how it’s done.

But we can’t just let our guards totally down yet. It seems like a lifetime ago but this region didn’t see a lot of cases initially as COVID-19 rolled across the country. In fact, it wasn’t until July that our cases started ramping up — when people went on vacation to other areas and brought COVID back. A second spike in our area resulted from gatherings around Thanksgiving done without precautions.

We definitely want to encourage anyone who wants to be in church on Easter to do so — but please do so safely. Wear a mask, wash your hands, maintain social distance. All these steps must be taken even if you’re vaccinated because you don’t know if you could inadvertently spread the disease without even knowing you have it.

Gather, but do so carefully. Let’s not make Easter — a time of resurrection — a time which leads to another spike and more lockdowns. The light is at the end of the tunnel but we’re all going to have to work together and take care of each other to get to the other side.