About three months ago we chalked our houses with an Epiphany blessing. Before that they were decorated for Christmas, and before that for Thanksgiving, and before that for Halloween, and before that…. Well, you get the idea. We decorate, we remember, we celebrate with tangible things. They remind us, invite us, and help us to be present to and participate in what is happening. And Holy Week is no different.
We walk in procession carrying palms. We wash feet. We venerate the cross. We eat bread and drink wine. At least we did last year. But this year will be different. We will not gather to wave our palms and sing All Glory, Laud, and Honor. We will not wash feet on Maundy Thursday. And we will not share the body and blood of Jesus.
We may not be gathering in person but it will still be Holy Week. So let’s still decorate, remember, and celebrate. Let’s be present and participate. Let’s make each of our houses a house of worship, a little church, a reminder to ourselves and the world that it’s Holy Week.
Here are some ways we could do that:
- For Palm Sunday hang some palms or “leafy branches” (St. Mark’s description) on your front door or put them in a front window for others to see. Set up a table in your house or on the front porch (or even in both places). Cover it with a red cloth and set your palms or leafy branches on it.
- On Maundy Thursday keep the table covered in red and set out a bowl or basin, a pitcher of water, and a towel. Or you could put them in a front window as a symbol of love for others.
- On Good Friday remove the table covering and let the table remain bare. Set a plain and simple cross on it, or put it in a front window. Remember, Jesus doesn’t take us off our cross. He gets up there with us.
- On Easter Sunday hang some flowers and a white cloth on your front door, put them in a window, or cover the table with a white cloth and set out a bouquet of flowers and a lit candle. Proclaim beauty, light, life, and hope. Alleluia!
Holy Week will not happen in the church this year, at least not like it has in previous years. But here’s the thing, Holy Week never really did happen in the church. It happens in our lives. Maybe this is the year to rediscover that. Maybe this year we rediscover that Holy Week is about more than reenacting or telling the story of what happened to Jesus. It’s about giving thanks for and experiencing Jesus walking with us through the Holy Week of our life. (And yes, Holy Week often happens more than once a year.)
I have heard clergy and laity alike fretting about Holy Week. What are we going to do? How do we do Holy Week in the midst of a pandemic when we cannot be together in person? How can we make it tangible and meaningful? I get it. I’ve been one of them. But here’s what I also get. This pandemic does not stand as a barrier or in opposition to Holy Week. The pandemic is our Holy Week. We don’t need to try and make Holy Week “normal” or like previous years. We need to experience and connect to Holy Week, not in spite of what is happening, but through what is happening.
Look into the pandemic and you’ll see triumphant palm waving that has given way to loss and brokenness. You’ll see humble and selfless acts of love. You’ll see feet being washed even when shoes and socks are never removed. You’ll see not only the deaths of people, but the deaths of life as it used to be, plans and routines, illusions, exceptionalism, and self-sufficiency. The people’s of the earth really have been made of one blood. You’ll see people waiting in the emptiness, loneliness, and darkness of Holy Saturday wondering, “How long, O Lord?” And who among us doesn’t know what that is like?
Look into the pandemic and you’ll see Holy Week. It has never been more real than it is this year.
I don’t know when or how we’ll get through this pandemic, but I know this. Every cross flowers with new life, every tomb is a workshop of resurrection, and every Holy Week is the raw material for a new creation.