C R O S S
E A S T E R and H o l y W e e k , 2020
Celebration of Holy Week and Easter this year may be unprecedented, since the women discovered the empty tomb! This amazing and time-honored centerpiece of reinvigorating faith and practice for Christians (and parallel observations of other faith communities, like Passover for our Jewish sisters and brothers), takes on new and unchartered meaning. Yes, God is in the surprises of our lives.
Does absence make the heart grow fonder? In the past, I have experienced the renewed appreciation and respect for family members and friends when for whatever reason, I was separated from them for a time. A break from routine opens hearts, minds and behavior to new possibilities. Experimenting with new approaches is the essence of scientific method, yielding discovery. On Ash Wednesday we were invited to fast, as a spiritual discipline of cleansing and renewal.
I have a refrigerator magnet here where I am quarantined that reads, “And God said: Do I have to come down there?” Well I don’t think for a second that God brings plagues as our ancestors in Ancient times (or some current fundamentalists)thought, but I do believe that our steadfast Creator and Lover is waiting to lead us into green pastures and beside still waters, out of the horrendous suffering and destruction from the Coronavirus Pandemic.
How might our frantic and furious lives across the planet have been slowed down and directed inward? The sacrifice of human life again points us to reflect on our values and priorities and what is most precious. Is that what the sacrifice of Jesus did? To think that the execution of a thirty-three-year-old spiritual Mentor and Lover has given my life meaning and purpose, makes me stop and wonder. The story this Holy Week exposes the violence and injustice of human power gone awry.
Is this brief respite from pollution healing the Earth? Are we seeing how interdependent our planet is, and are we being given a glimpse of the need to create healthy alliances to protect human life worldwide and sustain Mother Earth herself? This is a time and opportunity for deep questions, and not a frightened, superficial scurry back to “normalcy.”
Last year we struggled to discover what “Living Local” meant for our congregation — beyond our walls. I never imagined being quarantined and having church closed would bring a whole new meaning to that project. “No, our church is not closed,” someone said. We are the Body of Christ, and we are just spread out across the community. We have been forced to “live locally,” however isolated for a time. And what are we learning?
Buildings have imprisoned Christ’s Body for too long. Our ancestors were wandering sojourners in strange lands. This season we seek new ways to be the church. And please be patient as some of us are experiencing a very steep technological learning curve! Talk about being lost in the wilderness!
As we have transitioned to on-line communication and streaming of worship, questions are raised about how to celebrate the Eucharist, the central sign (sacrament) of our community. A variety of opinion exists, and I have listened to everyone and prayerfully considered alternatives. Both our Bp. Thomas of Maine and Bp. Tom Briedenthal in So. Ohio, where I am canonically resident, have explained that cyber sacraments are not wise. Blessing and giving and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is to be administered when two or three are physically gathered together, never by an individual alone.
During Advent I invite families to bring in their cloths and dishes to set the altar, making the point that Jesus is present whenever you gather at table in your home. That is also sacred space, and He is present in the everyday details of your busy lives. That is a way of claiming a “Spiritual Communion,” which is different than, but not less significant than, our physically gathered Body when we share the Eucharist in person.
Many churches do not share Communion every week. For years, there were not enough clergy to administer the sacraments regularly. On the other hand, some Roman and Orthodox Christians deem it important to receive Communion daily. The practice is all over the board, and I have to believe that in God’s great oversight, these varied conditions and frequencies do not matter. Being the Body, hungering and thirsting for the “gifts of God, as the people of God,” is what feeds us and mysteriously changes us from individuals into a community, beyond who we are on our own.
During this season we will not celebrate the traditional Eucharist, but we will focus on the sacrament of the Word, equally edifying and nourishing. Lent is a season of fasting, and we can fast for the bread and wine. In one sense, the Lenten season is being extended. The full, traditional celebration of Easter is being postponed until a date and time uncertain.
Easter Sunday at the National Cathedral will most likely see the Bishop of Washington celebrate a “Spiritual Communion,” blessing the elements, but with no one physically receiving them. We will have the opportunity of receiving them, (as a dying person who cannot ingest them does) in our hearts and spirits.
This is a time for many questions about who we are, what the church is, how our community is formed and nourished, and what Christ’s Body means for the long haul. I hope you will reflect on your faith and allow the Spirit to do a new good work in your life, as we make this wilderness journey together. God will renew us and the face of the Earth. Let us be glad and rejoice in the Rock of our salvation. On the third day, He will rise again! In this new day, will we recognize the gardener?
Shalom, Fr. Rick