Maundy Thursday: Worship Together Apart

Tonight, is the night for stories. Tonight, we remember the stories our ancestors handed down to us. Just as Jesus remembered the stories his ancestors told about the exodus from slavery in Egypt, we remember the stories our ancestors told about the night before Jesus died, when Jesus gave us a new mandate, in Latin, a mundatum which becomes Maundy; the night of the commandment. I suspect that in generations to come, our descendants will tell the stories which we hand down to them about the strange way in which we commemorated Holy Week during the pandemic.

Jesus’ ancestors kept the memory of the exodus alive with Passover meals. Our ancestors kept the memory of Jesus’ alive over suppers commemorating Jesus last supper. Our descendants will hear our stories of gatherings without ritual washing, without meals, without communion, without physically gathering together. The familiar stories of slavery in Egypt, and the ravages of life under Roman persecution, will be joined by our stories of life in isolation. Our stories will be but a short chapter in the everlasting story of the children of God. Our stories may pale in comparison. But our stories will also be centered around the steadfast conviction that all of life is lived in the midst of the MYSTERY that IS the LOVE that we call “God.”

So, let me tell you a story about how the pandemic isolation began in our household. Back when the isolation first began, when we were all still learning the rules surrounding what we ought to be doing and what we ought not to be doing, Carol and I were blessed by a visit from our granddaughters and their mother. It was the beginning of what was to be their spring-break from school. We had been looking forward to their visit for weeks. So, we had made all sorts of plans to do all sorts of fun things with our granddaughters. The night before they arrived, we considered the wisdom of their visit. But it was just the beginning of the isolation, back when we were still willing to take risks. 

It was a delightful three-day visit. A splendid distraction from the news. On the first full day of their visit we decided to go up to the lake for a walk. The gates to the provincial park were still open. Little did we know then, that these gates would soon close for the duration of this isolation. It was a cold day, but it was good to be outside.

Our granddaughters enjoyed scavenging on the beach. At one point, Evie the youngest, discovered a prize beyond measure. Evie came dashing over to me and insisted that I take a photograph of her treasure. According to Evie she had found the best of all the rocks in the world. When I asked Evie why this rock was the best, she replied, “Gran, this is the best of all the rocks because LOVE is the best, and this rock is shaped like a heart, and a heart means LOVE and LOVE is the most important thing in the world.  So this is the best rock in the world.” Recalling Evie’s declaration, I can’t help but say, “Amen!”

It occurs to me, that the stories we tell of this strange isolation we are all sharing, together, apart, will nourish generations to come, if they are stories of LOVE. Jesus embodied the LOVE that IS God by LOVING. On his last night, knowing that the powers that be, were out there, plotting against him, knowing that the Way of life that he was urging his followers to embody, this Way of peace through justice, this Way of life threatened the powers that be so much so, that they were out there waiting to do him harm. On what he must have known might be his very last night, Jesus gathered his friends and followers together, for the Passover meal, and at that meal, at that last supper, Jesus gave them the gift of a new commandment.  Jesus told them that the most important thing is LOVE. LOVE one another just as I have loved you. Jesus knew that embodying LOVE is the most important thing.

So, on this strange night, when just like our ancestors, we find ourselves huddled inside because it is dangerous to be out there. Let us remember what is most important. Let us resolve to keep the most important thing, the most important thing. Let us put LOVE where LOVE belongs. Let us be LOVE. Let it be said of us, that during the isolation, we loved as Jesus loved. Let us be LOVE by staying home. Let us be LOVE by reaching out to our families, friends, and neighbours. Let us be LOVE by loving those with whom we are isolated.

There are those among us who are essential workers. Thank-you for doing all the things that we cannot do. Thank-you for being LOVE in the world. When you do venture outside, be LOVE by extending a kind word, or an extra thank-you. Don’t get in the way. Don’t add to the burdens of others. Do whatever you can to help. Reach out with LOVE. Be generous with one another. Be kind to yourself.

If the stories that will be told of this great isolation are to nourish generations to come, LOVE must be at the center. The only way that LOVE will be at the center is if we embody that LOVE in all that we do and all that we are. 

We haven’t seen our granddaughters, indeed any of our family for a long time. But we are among the richly blessed. We have the technology, and if you are watching this video, you too have the technology. So, we are blessed to be able to reach out to one another and speak words of LOVE into this isolation. I can’t wait to hear all the stories that will be told of the ways in which so many people embodied the LOVE that is the MYSTERY we call God.

But for now, it is evening, and there is more darkness before us. There will be more suffering before this long isolation ends. But you and I dear friends, we know that darkness will not overcome us. We know that beyond the darkness, there shall be light, and in that light, we shall all be reunited in the LOVE that IS God. But for now, we must take up our various crosses and journey deeper into the darkness.

Let us journey, trusting that the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF, journeys in, with, through and beyond us, empowering each of us to be LOVE in the world. For this is how they will know that we are CHRIST’s by our LOVE. Let it be so. Let it be so dear ones. Let it be so. Amen.

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Jesus Wept. Today, our tears are CHRIST’s tears!

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“Can these bones live?” It’s a bit of a stretch to compare physical distancing and self-isolation to the valley of dry bones. If you are watching this, chances are you are safe and warm. The ability to shelter in place, or to self-isolate is a blessing afforded to the privileged. Mindful of our many blessings, we still cannot ignore how we are feeling right now. Our bones may not be dry, our hope may not be gone, and we are not doomed. But many of us are longing to return to our lives. In many ways if feels like we are in a  Valley of Dry Bones, and I long to return to the life l knew. 

For many of us it has been about two weeks since we began to seriously distance ourselves from one another. Stay at home orders have physically separated us from our families, friends, neighbours, work, our congregations and in many ways our lives. I don’t know about you, but his enforced separation has brought with it all sorts of emotions. In the scrambling to discover new ways of staying connected, I neglected to allow myself the opportunity to do the very thing that as a pastor, I often counsel others to do. I wasn’t paying attention to how and what I was feeling. I confess that there was a big part of me that was afraid to feel; afraid that given half the chance, my feelings would cause me to curl up in a ball, assume the fetal position and weep.

Weep for all that we have lost.

Weep for those who are suffering.

Weep for those who are dying.

Weep for the dead.

Weep for the healthcare workers.

Weep for the children.

Weep for the people of my congregation.

Weep for my loved ones.

Weep for myself.

I was doing a pretty good job of keeping busy, tending to what needs doing and then I sat down to write this reflection. The words, “Jesus wept.” unbound me and my tears began to flow. As I wept, I tried to figure out, why? I know that this, whatever this is, this too shall pass, and I know that all shall be well. So, what do I have to cry about?

It wasn’t until the tears subsided that I began to recognize that what I am feeling is grief. In all sorts of online conversations this week, people have mentioned “that uneasy feeling that I can’t quite figure out.” People have described having a “foggy brain” or the inability to focus or to concentrate.” I particularly resonate with those who have mentioned a “low-grade, stress headache.” I now suspect that these are the tell-tale symptoms of grief.

Grief comes in all sorts of ways for all sorts of reasons. Our world has changed so rapidly, and we all know that there will be many more changes before this is over. We may not know what is coming, but we know it’s coming. It’s like waiting for the other shoe to fall. We know that this too shall pass. But we also realize that things have changed, and many things will never be the same again. The loss of the everyday stuff that we all took for granted, our economic fears, the loss of connection, all these things are hitting us all at once and we are grieving. As we imagine what our future holds, we experience what is known as anticipatory grief. There is more to come and even our primitive minds know that something bad is happening, something we may not be able to see. Our sense of security is under threat.

Waves of grief can overwhelm us. Grief can cause us to deny our reality: the virus won’t affect us, it’s just like the flue, don’t worry. Grief can make us angry: how long do we have to stay home? Grief can make us strike bargain: If I stay home, follow the rules, me and mine, we’ll be ok. Grief can make us sad. Grief can also help us to accept what is happening, feel our feelings and help us to hope. It has been said, by the grief experts that:  acceptance is where the power lies. But the thing about grief is that it comes in all sorts of waves, following no specific rhyme or reason. One minute we are able to accept what is happening and the next moment we are in denial, or sad, or striking bargains.

Underlying all our grief is fear. Fear constricts us, binds us up in ways that make life impossible. Bound by fear, feels to me like being trapped in a tomb. Jesus says, “Lazarus come out!”

Lazarus is the Greek for the Hebrew name Eleazar, which means: “the one who God helps. In this parable of the raising of Lazarus, Lazarus is us, for each one of us is “the one who God helps.” By God I don’t mean a personified, super-hero, out there, or up there. By God I mean the ONE in whom we live, and move and have our being; the ONE who lives and moves in, with, through, and beyond us. By God I mean the one who is in here, and the ONE who IS beyond here; BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also.

One name for this God of whom I speak is CHRIST. When I read or hear the words “Jesus wept”, I know that CHRIST wept, just as surely as I weep, for our tears are CHRIST’s tears. In the words of St. Paul, we do not grieve as ones without hope.

I keep hearing “Stay home! Stay safe!” Yes, this is good advice. But please be kind to yourselves. Be gentle with yourself. Take time to grieve. Feel what you feel.  Weep when weeping comes.

We grieve as ONE, for there is nothing in heaven or on earth, that can separate us from the LOVE that IS God, no virus, no isolation, nothing in life or in death, that can separate us from the LOVE that IS God. This too shall pass. All shall be well. Today, our tears are CHRIST’s tears.

Soon, we shall hear Jesus’ call, “Lazarus come out!” and we shall emerge unbound free to live and be LOVE in the world. For now, our hands are CHRIST’s hands. So let, us be CHRIST in our care for one another. Resurrection, just as surely as springtime, resurrection is coming. Let it be so. Let it come soon.