When the social distancing guidelines went into effect on or about March 16, it was clear that the Christian Holy Week would not be the same this year. Would it be possible to create remote services that could replicate a week filled first with excitement and hosanna, then fellowship and covenant, then betrayal, then cruel death, capped off by a miraculous, forever celebrated resurrection?
In any other year, Palm Sunday means a line of children joyfully walking down the aisle and waving palms. The standard procession was not possible in a virtual celebration. Instead the members waved palms or branches on camera at various points of the service. Additionally, over the last few years, Palm Sunday meant that our choir would sing a cantata. But the corona virus and social distancing hindered the ability to rehearse and develop a musical alternative. But we still were able to celebrate with our worship leader and others online singing glorious hymns signaling Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.
We moved from great joy to reflection and discussion at our Bible Study on Tuesday night. The good news is that I’ve been able to participate because a virtual study means I don’t have to drive and spend time commuting at night when my energy flagging. I can just hop in my jammies as soon as the study ends and get some tea and immediately relax and wind down.
I realized during our Holy week bible study that I would have been a lousy disciple. Why? Well Christ gave the Disciples what seemed to me to be rather vague instructions to follow. For example, we studied the Palm Sunday preparation and entry into the city. At that time, Christ told two disciples to go into the village where they would find a donkey and a colt. He said: “Untie them and bring them to me.” Now I would be asking things like – “Hey there has to be more than one donkey and colt in this village. How do I know I have the right donkey and colt. Do I need to take some form of payment? Do we need insurance for these animals?” But the two Disciples just did what Christ asked and did not overwhelm him with questions.
In preparation for the Last Supper, The Gospel of Matthew said that the Disciples asked what preparations they should make for the Passover. Christ said: “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” Again, the Disciples did exactly as they were told. But I would have asked– “Jesus, does this guy have a name? If not, any identifying marks like a tattoo or a pierced nose? Is there a cover charge? Does this man’s house perhaps have an upper room?” We all are familiar with the Disciple with the nickname Doubting Thomas. My nickname would have been Annoying Melanie.
But everything that Jesus asked the Disciples to do for those two occasions fell into place just like he said they would because the Disciples knew that Jesus would not lead them astray. What does this say to me? During this time of Covid 19, I also need to realize that there will be hard times, but if I trust in God to guide me through prayer and discernment, I will not be led astray. Most important, I have learned that sometimes you need to stop asking so many questions and just trust in your faith. Otherwise, you’re likely to miss all the miracles, in all assorted sizes, that are going on around you.
On Thursday, we had a Maundy Thursday service. This is a remembrance of the Last Supper with Jesus and the Disciples, and it occurred during the Passover. Five members of our congregation gave presentations on a concept that they thought was central to communion. The topics included acceptance, examination, forgiveness, mystical union and fellowship (my topic). This was a very interesting process because even though we did not discuss with each other the topic of each presentation, there were some key points we all hit on.
What did I take away from all of the presentations: As Disciples we have bonded to such an extent that our thoughts and reflections on Jesus and his sacrifice mirror each other. The communion process should be a reflective, strengthening time that helps us to reaffirm our covenant with God and Christ and with each other. Once we finish communion each week, we are renewed to take on the greatest of challenges and model Christ’s teachings.
The next night, we had a Good Friday service. Like me, you might ask why it is called Good Friday? The adjective good seems tremendously out of place when you read the Bible and take in the horrific events that occurred from the time that Jesus was betrayed by Judas until he uttered his last breath on the cross. How can there be anything good in that?
The use of the term of Good Friday has been around for centuries. I found some helpful information at the BBC.com website. An article entitled: Who, What Why: Why is Good Friday called Good Friday? says:
We should not let our good fortune form Christ’s death and resurrection cloud the magnitude of the suffering Christ experienced on our behalf.
The online Good Friday service offered by my church served to remind me of just how deep the love of Christ for God’s children was. The service involved reading the scriptures in the Gospel of Matthew, from the time of the Last Supper, when Christ told the Disciples that one among them would betray him and one would deny him three times. It continued with the betrayal as Roman soldiers came to arrest Christ, and the proceedings before first the high priest and then the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, who ultimately sent Christ to be crucified. It ended with the crucifixion and Christ’s last breath on the cross. The death provoked a violent reaction from God, resulting in the tearing of the curtain’s temple, the earth shaking, the splitting of rocks, the tombs breaking open and the Roman guards terrified explanation that “Surely he was the Son of God.”
After each segment of the scriptures, the reader would extinguish a candle. The darkness in the setting mirrored the very dark side of mankind, who would so quickly turn on a man that they welcomed with Hosanna just days before. We were encouraged to reflect and pray after the service ended.
What did I learn? If you are of the Christian faith, you sit in sanctuaries and cathedrals that have depictions of Christ dying on the cross. But I think you have to read and reflect carefully and in a quiet setting on the enormity of that sacrifice. The betrayal of Judas while devastating was part of what it took to fulfill the prophecy. But I think the pain of the faithlessness of the other 11 Disciples who ran from the scene and/or denied even knowing their leader was crushing. These were men he had picked to be his followers and to lead people to God after he was sacrificed. If they couldn’t stand beside him in his time of need, would they be able to lead his followers after he was gone? And then there was the mocking by the people – even the criminals who died with him - and the intense agony and cruelty of the crucifixion.
It is overwhelming to read this all in one sitting. I was just amazed that Christ went through with sacrificing himself to save mankind in light of the vicious nature of his betrayal and death. As he says in one of the scriptures, he could call on God to bring in the angels to save him. But he didn’t. Because in the end it was what his father expected of him. And I think he also had an expectation that his Disciples would come to the epiphany that God calls upon us to do things that are beyond our abilities, but he will not desert us as we do the things that heretofore seemed impossible to us. He doesn’t desert us.
I took a walk on Easter Sunday early in the morning. I stopped by the church that is on my route to see the stained glass panel that shows Christ rising over the tomb. I stared at it for a while and reflected on the wonder of Christ’s power and the wonder of our salvation. Then I went home and I listened to part of an online service from the LGBT community that a friend had recommended to me that was also inspiring. Then I logged on to the worship service of my own church.
Our church follows the lectionary, a suggested collection of scriptural readings from the Bible that are used in worship. The lectionary sets out the scripture choices for each Sunday. On Easter Sunday, the scripture our church used was Matthew Chapter 28, verses 1 – 10. This is the passage where the two Marys go to the tomb to mourn Jesus. Noteworthy, the two Marys were also watching from a distance when Christ breathed his final breath. Women did not have a high place in the hierarchy of those times, and it must have taken great courage to be both present at Golgatha, and to travel to the tomb and have to face guards who might threaten any follower of Christ who came to grieve.
Imagine how that fear multiplied when at the tomb, they were confronted by a violent earthquake that signaled the arrival of an angel. The Roman guards were terrified and became like dead men -which I assume means that they passed out from fear. But the women stood their ground – fearful yet willing to face whatever might come.
For their persistence for facing down their fear and remaining in the presence of the angel, they were blessed with hearing the great news of Christ’s resurrection. Still in fear, but willing to do the angel and ultimately Christ’s bidding, they hurried off to spread the great news to the Disciples. Why fear? If they had witnessed Christ speaking to them, shouldn’t they have been only ecstatic? Make no mistake – I believe their joy was without limit But again, they also lived in a world where many, including the highest “holy” men, had mocked and tortured their savior. What worldly evil might descend upon them for spreading the word that the man they had brutally murdered had risen? No, they had good reason to be afraid but their courage and bravery and most important their faith compelled them to put aside their fears so that they could fulfill God and Christ’s will and spread the good news.
What does all this tell me? My heart failure is something that causes me anxiety and fear. When you add in the extra threat of the corona virus, the fear can become paralyzing. It is time to rely on my faith in God. I need to understand that he is with me, and it is my responsibility to be out in the world – even if it is just in e-mails or in phone calls or in blog posts – letting others know that we will all be okay, that God has not left us behind. We still need to continue the journey and let our Christian faith shine in the face of whatever virus or disaster or pain comes our way. Because if you lose your relationship with God, and your ability to pass it on, then you’ve lost everything. So let the events of Holy week serve to guide us and to wholly inspire us.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.