“This too shall pass,” my mother says to me, her anxious daughter, for the thousandth time in my life.
I know that I am not alone in my dislike (perhaps even fear) of change, my desire to always have a plan, the comfort of having control over situations. I suppose that is, in part, where my love of tradition comes from — there is something soothing about knowing what will come and how it will unfold.
All at once, we have been thrown into the unknown. Our routines have been stripped from us and we clamber to establish new ones. We are deprived of our communities – be it colleagues, classmates, teammates, or family and friends. Traditions too, have been taken away.
It is Holy Week – the most important days of the liturgical year. These are days steeped in tradition and rituals, beacons of light guiding us to the glorious celebration of Easter, the summit of our faith. Yet this year, we do not have those familiar guideposts and I am left feeling like I am grasping for something in the dark.
For so many people, places of worship have been an anchor in an uncertain world. Churches have been the buildings people flock to when tragedy hits. They are sanctuaries of peace, comfort, solace, safety. But this year, their doors are closed.
This year, there was no Palm Sunday – when palms are handed out and we joyfully proclaim “hosanna.” There will be no Holy Thursday — where feet are washed to recall Christ’s humility at his final supper with his disciples. No Stations of the Cross, the somber walk through a Catholic church to reflect on the stages of Christ’s suffering, crucifixion and burial. On Good Friday there will be no Veneration of the Cross – a ceremony where we behold and honor the wood on which the salvation of the world was hung. These are traditions which have been carried on for hundreds of centuries. The absence of them is unimaginable.
Yesterday was Palm Sunday. I should have been in Church, grasping a palm, singing “hosanna,” stifling a cough from the outpouring of incense. Instead, I sat with my family in my parent’s house, watching Mass on our TV. The painfulness of this situation- the state of the world- gripped my heart in a new way.
Then I remembered – God has not been taken away. Despite all the changes and unknowns, God remains constant, unaltered. He is the God of our future, our past, and our present. Furthermore, Jesus was abundantly familiar with suffering. He is the God who wept when his beloved friend died; the one who fell three times carrying his cross; the one who knew despair as he cried out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
He sees our anxious hearts, he knows the crosses we carry, he understands our pain. And he is there with us.
In today’s Gospel, we read the story of Jesus eating dinner with his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Outside the safety of their home, tensions are rising. There is a growing desire to end Jesus’ life. Chaos is ensuing. But Jesus remains present to his friends. At one point, Mary takes a jar of extremely expensive perfumed oil and anoints the feet of Jesus. In an act filled with profound love, Mary worships Jesus, acknowledging and making manifest the reality that he is the Anointed One. Jesus not only receives this gesture, but commends it. Why? Not because he needs to be worshipped, or because he needs fine things; but because somehow, Jesus knows we need to worship, to serve, to love – in order to unite our hearts with his.
How then, do we worship our Lord in this unprecedented time, when our usual modes of worship are withheld from us? I believe now, more than ever, we are once again being invited to make Jesus the center of our lives, to renew our trust that God never forsakes us.
Sometimes, in the midst of the beautiful and rich traditions of the Catholic faith, I forget how plain and ordinary Jesus and his followers were. The palm branches, which the crowds waved, were not an anomaly to the typical fauna that surrounded them, as they are in NH. The people took what they had, and through acts of worship and love, the ordinary was transformed into the extraordinary.
We too can do this. No, we do not have alabaster jars of perfumed oil, or palm leaves, but we can go out and gather pine branches, a reminder of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
On Holy Thursday we can gather with our families, the people with whom we are closest, and share a meal; just as Jesus ate with his friends on the night before he would die. Likewise, we can follow the model which he has given us and take turns kneeling before our family members; washing each other’s feet, honoring them through a simple, humble act; knowing that by honoring them, we also honor God.
On Good Friday we can refrain from technology, fast, and pray, acknowledging the solemnity of this day. At 3pm, the hour Christ died, we can pray the Stations of the Cross.
It will be different, but we will still be celebrating Holy Week. During these monotonous days our observances will be subdued, happening in our ordinary homes, while the chaos of this pandemic persists. Even now, Jesus remains present.
This too shall pass. When it does, let us not return to the way things were. Let us enter into the world with new life and joy, with renewed hope, with gratitude; and most importantly, when the doors of our churches open once again, let us return to our Lord with changed hearts.
This reflection was originally written for “Bishop Gurtein’s Holy Week Reflections.”