Here's what I wrote for the April newsletter of Christ Church, Elizabethtown, KY a few days before Palm Sunday:
We are entering our fourth week of social distancing. I must admit when we were first encouraged to stay at home I had a kind of “snow day” sensation – as if school was canceled and I was getting away with something. I like change and while I was concerned and anxious, there was an excitement to it. I had things to do to prepare, like shopping for supplies, and new things to learn, like Facebook Live. I knew that newness wouldn’t last. And it didn’t.
The reality of our situation is settling in. I find myself missing human contact, missing my kids and my friends in California and elsewhere more than usual. My living space, which I love, is feeling confining. And there is something more, something a little under the surface. I think it’s grief. I feel like we are in the midst of some kind of shift and that this moment will be somewhat like 9/11 – a time that universally marks a before and an after. Remember when we could fly without out so much security – when we could meet people at their gates? I don’t know quite what we will lose, but it will be something.
My feeling of grief is connected to the anxiety I have felt over our political and social climate change these past four years. As our political and social rhetoric has devolved into vitriol and name calling, we have lost a civility, a sense of community. Perhaps we can regain the civility we have had, but perhaps not. Into an already strained civic system our pandemic rages. And now we can’t touch, or even be close to one another. I have a sense that we have lost, or are losing something precious. I can’t really see it or name it clearly. What will life after the pandemic be like? In a year, how will we complete the sentence, “Remember when we used to . . . ?” I don’t know; the uncertainty is unnerving.
It is times like these when our faith is critical. Not a Pollyanna faith that everything will be unicorns and rainbows, but a gritty faith born from a bloody cross and carried by heroes who have weathered storms more perilous than ours. This won’t be easy. There will be blood. Pain. Despair. And in all things, in all of this, God will be present loving us and sustaining us, and in the end, resurrecting us. We don’t know what our future holds, but we do know that our future is held in the hands of God’s love and providence. God will take the pain and anxiety of this present moment and use it to create something new. God always has, and always will. There will be life, new life, on the other side of this pandemic.
Not only do we have the faith that God is with us, and will bring us to new life on the other side, we know that times such as these provide us with opportunities to love. Every crisis, every tragedy is an opportunity to love. We see it already in the ways people are connecting with one another in creative ways, in the ways people are giving sacrificially to support health care workers and isolated neighbors. There will be manifold ways for us to love one another in the weeks and months to come. We get to exercise our capacity to love, and doing so helps create the new, resurrected world that will emerge on the other side of this crisis.
This time is scary but we are not powerless. We can love. And we can pray the prayers of the church, prayers that are designed to give us hope. We are entering Holy Week – a week of intense prayers where we enter deeply into the pain and suffering of our Lord, Jesus Christ – pain and suffering that lead to profound despair, as we see from Jesus’ words from the cross, “My God, why have you forsaken me.” But as the story plays out we see that Jesus was never forsaken by God. The pain of the cross led to new, rich, and abundant life. Jesus was transformed into something new and glorious in the Risen Christ. It is our belief that the transformation from death to new resurrected life is not a one-time event limited to Jesus. Rather the cross and resurrection of Jesus happened to show us that that is how God operates. God creates new and abundant life out of experiences that feel like death. It is what God does.
Our Paschal faith is defiant in the face of tragedy. This pandemic will be difficult, and we may feel forsaken for a season, but we are not forlorn. God’s will be done.
I invite you to enter as deeply as you can into the prayers of the church. We can’t meet as usual this Holy Week, but perhaps that isn’t all bad. Rather than going through the usual motions, our circumstances push us into a place that might be closer to the trauma and pain experienced by Jesus and the disciples. Rather than see our social distancing as an impediment to our worship, perhaps the disruption and fear of our present moment is an invitation to enter more deeply and authentically into the Paschal Mystery where pain and struggle, with God’s presence and grace, are transformed into new life.
Please join me in observing a holy Holy Week. In the coming days I will be planning Holy Week services that can be viewed online as well as sharing prayers and readings you can use on your own at home.