The World Health Organization declared Coronavirus a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. However, prior to that time, the virus surely was wreaking havoc around the world and altering the way of life for many. Sunday, March 15 marked our first online virtual worship service at the church where I am employed, and each week, even each day thereafter has been marked by new realities of the global devastation of this virus.
As Christians around the world mark this most important week in our faith tradition, Holy Week, the news and internet is teeming with discussions about how Easter is going to be so different for everyone this year. Different? Yes, I would agree. Worse than years before? I don’t think so. In fact, I think Holy Week and Easter may be even better during this pandemic.
On Maundy Thursday, we celebrate the tradition of the Last Supper — when Christ partook of his last passover feast before his death. Christ was gathered around table with his closest followers, his disciples, his intimate inner circle, his family. Year after year in churches around the globe, we gather in our worship houses and partake of the sacrament of communion to commemorate this Last Supper. But how much more appropriate is it that we sit at table with our closest family, our intimate inner circle and share of whatever common elements we have in our homes? Doesn’t this more mirror the fellowship of that last passover feast? What if we sat at table with our families, with the TVs off and with a Bible at the table so we could read about the Last Supper together and share a meal together and express our love for one another, just as Jesus did with his disciples?
On Good Friday, our tradition focuses on Christ’s suffering and death. Many of us would normally attend a worship service where the Passion story is portrayed in dramatic form through music or acting or sounds or images. Some may hold the cross or hear a hammer to remind of us Christ’s gruesome crucifixion. Maybe the large Bible is slammed shut to indicate the finality of death and the sealing of the tomb. The music is somber. We depart in silence. These services can be emotionally provocative. But we do not need such a service to appreciate the suffering of Christ. Perhaps being confined to our homes during a pandemic can truly enhance our spiritual understanding of Christ’s suffering.
Consider Julian of Norwich (1342-1416). Julian was a religious recluse who lived during the time of the devastating Black Plague. Deeply devout, she strived to strengthen her faith and live out Christ’s teachings. When she was 30, Julian became quite ill with the plague — so ill that the priest was called to administer the blessing of the last rites. In her moments of deepest sickness, Julian prayed that God would show her first hand the suffering that Christ endured, and when Julian emerged from near death, having defeated the plague, she shared the sixteen visions God “showed” her in which Christ’s suffering and his immense love for us were revealed to her. Even through her own suffering, Julian’s message was one of hope and of God’s love for us. How might we focus our attentions more intently on the cross and on Christ’s suffering and on his love for us this Good Friday? How might we use our own fears, uncertainties, and grief that have acutely impacted us during this time of global sickness to have a better understanding of the fears, uncertainties and grief that gripped the hearts of the earliest Christians when they did not have the benefit of knowing the rest of the Easter story?
Having then truly experienced Holy Week, we emerge Easter Sunday, anxious to celebrate the glory of the resurrection story, not with trumpets and echoes of the Hallelujah chorus, but with a deepened understanding and gratitude of what it means to be a person of faith in Jesus Christ. To a be a people who have a profound sense of hope in a time that seems bleak and uncertain. To be able to boldly proclaim that nothing — nothing — can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus, not even death. Our faith is personal, internal, private; it is a reflection of our acceptance of being profoundly loved by our Creator and our desire to be tethered to God in all the ways we live and work and love. Perhaps now more than ever, we need to be personally connected to what Easter means in our lives and in our faith, and I believe it may be easier to achieve this personal connection when our worship is focused solely on Christ’s sacrificial love for us, without the distraction of being reunited with our congregations or of the pomp and circumstance of grand Easter celebration worship services. Surely there will be wonderful celebrations on our return to our worship houses. But these services are not Easter. Easter is what God did through Christ. And we can celebrate that miracle anywhere, anytime, in any way.
Julian of Norwich wrote that God never said we would not be “tempested, … travailed, … or dis-eased,” but God did say that we shall not be overcome. She also wrote “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Grace and peace to you as you journey.
Yours in Christ,