I am not a religious person, not in the organized religion/biblical sense anyway. However, I have always found the most profound life lessons in the rituals and narratives of Easter week.
Palm Sunday ushers us in with a promise of beginnings and continuity of hope. We burn the palms and use the ashes for Ash Wednesday repentance the following year.
Maundy Thursday resonates with me the most.
Several years ago I attended and served on the vestry of a wonderful episcopal church, Cathedral Church of Christ the King in Kalamazoo. Sadly, that particular congregation no longer gathers in the cathedral. But while I was a member, I found a profound sense of peace and hope as I symbolically sat with Christ through the night of Maundy Thursday into the morning of Good Friday. We took turns sitting and praying alone in the beautiful cathedral, never leaving Christ alone. Our beloved church space became our own personal Garden of Gethsemane. There we met the “maundy”, or command of Christ -“Love one another as I have loved you”. Maundy Thursday is all about love, it is the heart of Easter week. It sits in the middle of the week, heart beating.
On Good Friday I reflect on sacrifice. I have sat through many a Good Friday service succumbing to cathartic tears when the enormity of sacrifice strikes my soul. This year sacrifice has taken on an even more profound meaning as I see it happening in real time every day of this global pandemic. We have been guided to this moment by the initial supreme sacrifice we have observed every Good Friday over the centuries; and we are witnessing the resulting humanity it has given us.
On Holy Saturday we mourn, we reflect, and we pray. We forgive.
Easter Sunday graces us with the promise of new life. The symbolism of hope is never more profound than on this day. We can falter and fall to the lowest of depths. Love, sacrifice, forgiveness, and hope will lift us up and restore us. Through these four elements of humanity we find renewal.
I know many of you are saddened by the closing of church doors this week. Try to remember that a church is not a building, it is the collective soul of the people who gather there. It is only when we practice the tenets of humanity (mercy, compassion, benevolence, love, forgiveness) learned and felt in church, and in life in general, that the true spirit of church can be felt worldwide.
During this time when the whole world feels the pain of pandemic, our hearts and souls are our churches, and life on earth is our pastor, guiding us home to a new congregation, a better church where we can all gather- – – renewed.