One month ago, the parish I serve gathered for the first Sunday in Lent. On that day we began to implement social distancing among our parishioners with modifications to the passing of the Peace and how we received the Blessed Sacrament. By the following Sunday, we were praying Morning Prayer and eating prepackaged goodies for coffee hour. Two days later, we embraced a fully virtual format for our common life.
Although I could imagine at that time what a pandemic might mean for us and our community, I could never have been prepared for its reality. Today, I sit at home writing this piece at my son’s desk staring out at two tripods, a couple of cameras and a photography lamp pondering the effects of my own isolation in the midst of our shared experience. Separation has become our theme. Separation has become our existence.
But this is nothing new for us as humans. Separation as a theme is found throughout the beginning stories of our faith such as Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden, Cain’s wandering after murdering Abel, the falling of the Tower of Babel, the Flood, Israel’s 40 years in the desert, and so on. However, what is also a theme is God’s constant and consistent presence in the midst of separation regardless of whether it is fully understood or even seen by the people. God is there in the space and air of separation.
Next week is the center of our life as Christians as we celebrate the full and complete confirmation of God’s presence in our lives. I have seen some say that by not physically gathering, Holy Week and Easter are somehow cancelled. My friends, nothing can cancel the central proclamation of the hope that is within us. Holy Week and Easter have been celebrated in foxholes and on battlefields; in concentration camps and in prisons. People all over the world have proclaimed for two thousand years despite war in their lands, a lack of food in their bellies, and chains around their necks the Good News that God is with us in the bodily Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. If there was one Easter that would have been cancelled, it would have been the first. And a murderous death at our hands nor the power of hell could not stop it. Despite our separation, we will without fail will lay down our palms to greet Jesus in Jerusalem, have our feet washed by him, dine with him with bread and wine, struggle to stay awake with him in the garden, run like cowards once he is arrested, deny ever knowing him before dawn, shout “Crucify him!” with a mob, weep at his feet as he takes his last breath, seal him in a tomb, enter into Hades, and be yanked up by our wrists in Resurrection Glory. The lack of physical presence does not cancel God’s Real Presence.
It is in the spirit of living into the faith that is within us that our community has embraced a schedule for Holy Week and Easter that partners with our Cathedral to provide the bulk of the week’s liturgies. This gives us the opportunities to focus on the more subtle, yet powerful events as we virtually offer the Liturgy of the Palms (so that we will have blessed palms to burn for next year’s Ash Wednesday ashes); the Garden Watch (so that we may have an hour of time to pray with Jesus at the Altar of Repose); the tomb liturgy on Holy Saturday (so that we may experience the space of waiting between death and life); and the proclamation of the Resurrection with a special sermon late on Saturday night followed by Morning Prayer on Easter Day. My hope is that we will see in our time of separation God’s fullest connectivity. Please join me in this journey of light and reconciliation as we pray together for the healing of our world and that we too, will be raised with Jesus in everlasting Glory.