Holy Week in the Pandemic: Journeying in a Time Not Our Own

Holy Week in the Pandemic: Journeying in a Time Not Our Own

I go to the altar of God, to God who gives joy to me.”

Why an altar?  It marks the meeting place with the Holy.  Whether a stone cairn or marble table, a mound of earth or pit of fire, an elaborate temple, a beautiful mosque or a great cathedral; a small corner in a room where we pray: something deep in our heart longs for communion with the Holy.

What is it in us that creates such longing? such instinctive movement toward it?  We go to the altar not only because we desire, but because we must:  we hear a summons which cannot be ignored.

And there God speaks to each heart the word it needs: You are precious in my eyes, you are honored and I love you; I delight in you; I am with you, do not be afraid; you are forgiven, be at peace; rest in My love.  At the altar of God, we remember who and Whose we are: we are home.

Holy Week summons us out of Ordinary time into the darkness of Jesus’ Passion, through the desert of suffering and to the altar of God’s heart. We eat at the altar of Holy Thursday supper; kneel at the altar of Gethsemane suffering, surrender and betrayal; stand mute as Jesus is stripped, beaten and flung on the sacrificial altar of Roman brutality.   We walk with him through narrow streets to Golgotha.  We fall at the altar of his cross and weep.  We scatter and feel lost.   We go to the altar that is his tomb and find only shreds of cloth strewn around.

Everything is forever changed.

And so it is with us. A global pandemic has upended and forever changed our ordinary ways of living:  the rhythms that center us, the communities that sustain us, the physical altars we gather round in worship. We experience the terror of isolation and the claustrophobic unfreedom of quarantine.  We mourn the physical absence of family and friends to comfort us in these uncertain times.

But no catastrophe, either natural or of human making, can change the truth of our lives. Trust, then, that out of the dark night of pandemic, Easter Hope will rise, marked not by a return to the old normal, but to one transformed. We will build a new creation, marking it with altars of hope and joy, thanksgiving and praise.  Until then, let each one of us – in our care and compassion, our presence and prayers – be living altars of the abiding presence of God.                                                                                                                                                                                               
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