ARLINGTON — Churches in the Stillaguamish Valley will celebrate Easter like they normally do. Pastors will deliver the message of Christ’s resurrection from the grave, a triumph over sin, death and the devil. For Christians, the resurrection is a game-changer, the pivotal event in human history.
The difference this Sunday is this message of hope will come four weeks and one day after an event that forever changed the lives of people living in the communities of Oso, Darrington and Arlington.
Area pastors believe it is a message people in the depths of despair over the Oso slide need to hear now more than ever.
“The principal focus will be the proclamation of the resurrection and that reality, and the faith and hope we have despite the people we’ve lost and the loved ones who are grieving,” said Father Tim Sauer, pastor at the Immaculate Conception Parish in Arlington and St. John Vianney in Darrington.
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Sauer said the slide and other tragedies in the world, such as the lost Malaysia Airlines plane and the ferryboat sinking in South Korea, are products of a fallen world, a flawed human condition.
“The hope and power of Jesus is that disasters do not write the final chapter of the human story,” said Sauer, who will conduct two Easter masses in Arlington Sunday morning, and another in Darrington Sunday evening. “The hope and the confidence that we have is that the final chapter of our story is going to be written by God, not by death.”
In Darrington, First Baptist Church Pastor Mike DeLuca says the community is in the midst of a “new normal” since 10:44 a.m. March 22, when the hillside near Oso gave way and roared across the Stillaguamish River, burying much of a riverfront neighborhood of homes.
DeLuca says there’s this tension between a desire to “move on” and a tug to stay in a mode of grieving out of respect for the enormous loss of life and those left behind.
“There’s this strange pull in two directions,” he said. “We are going through a new reality. We have been changed forever.”
First Baptist will hold a sunrise service and a breakfast Sunday. Those are “normal” Easter traditions for the church. The “new normal,” however, means part of his congregation lives on the other side of the slide and is unlikely to drive the nearly two-hour, 100-mile-each-way detour through Mount Vernon and Rockport to attend Easter services.
“We miss them,” DeLuca said. “They can’t comfort us in our grief, and we can’t comfort them. We talk by phone, text each other and email. But it feels rather inadequate.”
DeLuca anticipates Easter attendance will get a bit of a boost from FEMA personnel, Red Cross workers and other visitors in town.
Arlington United Church will hold a 9 a.m. brunch and its Easter service at 10:15 a.m.
“The focus of the sermon will especially emphasize the hope we have in resurrection,” said the church’s lead pastor, Deena Jones.
Jones was serving the final month of a three-month sabbatical in Guatemala when the Oso slide occurred. Filling her shoes was Jessica Ronhaar, the church’s family ministry director.
Two days after the slide, Ronhaar organized an impromptu prayer service that drew far more media attention than she imagined. In addition to local media, reporters and camera operators from NBC, ABC, Fox News and Canada descended on the small, 101-year-old church near downtown Arlington. Ronhaar was interviewed on the “NBC Nightly News.”
“It was an emotional service,” she said. “We opened up the mike for people to come up and pray, but many of them were scared off by the media. But it was really needed for our community to have something. A lot of people who came told me they were grateful the service was there.”
Ronhaar, who is also director of Youth Dynamics for the Arlington School District, has spent most of her time since the slide counseling students, members of her congregation who were first responders and friends.
“We have a friend who’s a volunteer and one of his good friend’s son was missing, and they finally found him, Denver Harris,” Ronhaar said. “He was there with his friend, the dad, digging. I was talking to his wife and she mentioned the nightmares he was having. I’ve been burdened by knowing people that have seen things that none of us should experience.”
For others in the “Stilly Valley” this Easter season, when it comes to faith, there are more questions than answers. Ronhaar is frequently asked: “How can a loving God allow bad things to happen to a good people?” Others take it a step farther.
“I have a friend who lost her father-in-law and mother-in-law,” Ronhaar said. “She’s been questioning why did God make this happen.
“It’s an interesting conversation. But God didn’t make this happen. God is good. God does not make bad.”
Rick Lund: firstname.lastname@example.org