We will soon enter Holy Week 2020. Probably the most unusual and anxious Holy Week many of us have ever experienced. The themes move from a joyful Palm Sunday to the intimate sharing and community bonding of Holy Thursday, and then to angry condemnation, suffering, and a painful death on Good Friday.
We can resonate today with all of these themes. The Corona situation is now changing dramatically and will probably get much worse before getting better. I am not a prophet of doom. Just a realist. Many people are carrying crosses today….
BUT……There is of course the big Holy Week theme that we cannot allow ourselves to forget: resurrection and new life. The message of Easter is that life is changed not taken away. The message of promise and hopefulness.
In Jesus, people experienced the face and heart of God. They participated in and with the Divine. They didn’t just look on from the distance. Christianity is not about being a spectator but about being a participant. We are, and must remain, community, whether big or small, inspired and animated by the One whose life was changed not taken away.
A small danger, arising from so many virtual liturgies on Facebook, Internet, and TV, during the Corona crisis, is that people slip into patterns of thinking that observing Christian rituals is about as effective as being actively involved in participating in and doing them. A friend said in an email how happy she was to be able to watch her solitary bishop, in an empty cathedral, standing at the altar, in full bishop’s regalia, “saying Mass.” There may be some value here, but these kinds of projections raise in me the fear of the old distorted magical ritualism: watching the priest perform.
If I were a pastor (easy to say because I am not) I would give my parishioners materials, guidance, and encouragement for small group scripture and simple rituals that could be done at home, in safe small groups, rest homes, etc. One of my Jesuit friends, in fact, announced, a couple days ago, that his community has prepared home liturgy booklets for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. They can be easily downloaded and printed. Excellent move.
We find a clear reference to a simple early Christian liturgical experience in Luke chapter 24: the post-Resurrection account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus and their encounter with the living Jesus in the “breaking of bread.”
“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?'”
Jesus then has a talk with them: “…beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” Later the two disciples invite Jesus to join them at table. There they recognize him in the “breaking of bread.” Jesus later disappears but the disciples observe: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” Participation in the life and spirit of Jesus raised from the dead…
This narrative is a key example of Christian participation in the life journey to a deeper faith. It is an invitation, as well, to help all of us on our life journeys.
Over the last couple weeks, cut off from friends and quarantined in my home, two quotations I jotted down years ago bobbed in my head. One from the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1905-1995). The other from the Christian mystic Teresa of Avila (1515-1582).
Levinas said the only thing that really changes people deeply is “an encounter with the face of the other.” And Teresa reminded people long ago that “Christ has no body now but your’s. No hands, no feet on earth but your’s. Your’s are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world.”
May we believe and be well. – Jack