This will be a very different Holy Week and Easter for all of us this year.
It is likely that most of us have had the experience of missing Holy Week and/or Easter celebrations at one time or another due to illness. At the age of 6, when I first arrived in New Brunswick from Saskatchewan, I spent Holy Week and Easter in the hospital with pneumonia. I know others who have missed several years of Holy Week and Easter celebrations due to illness, and still others who have been through the very painful experience of spending Holy Week and Easter at the bedside of a dying loved one. But never before have we all been forced to miss Holy Week and Easter gatherings and been so surrounded by grief at the very same time.
I heard one person say that the present situation was like experiencing a form of Lent which, in addition to being far more strict than anyone would ever choose (imagine choosing to give up time with family and friends for Lent), also comes with no discernable end date. Easter will come, but our Lenten deprivation will continue, and with it our sense of loss and grief which would seem to be the very opposite of what we are meant to experience at Easter. But maybe there is a deeper experience of Christ’s resurrection being offered to us this year.
Jesus’ victory over sin and death has the power to fill us with hope and joy regardless of our circumstances, and soon enough most will be free to celebrate Jesus’ gift of new life together. But perhaps this Holy week and Easter Jesus is leading us in a different direction to experience his victory in a new and deeper way. What if this year Jesus is inviting us to experience his victory over sin and death, not through our usual celebrations, but through a deeper experience of lamentation?
In a piece he recently wrote for Time magazine, Bishop N.T. Wright provides a strong reminder of the power of godly lamentation, and in particular the power of God’s own lamentation and grief.
“The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments… God was grieved to his heart, Genesis declares, over the violent wickedness of his human creatures. He was devastated when … the people of Israel, turned away from him. And when God came back to his people in person—the story of Jesus is meaningless unless that’s what it’s about—he wept at the tomb of his friend. St. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit “groaning” within us, as we ourselves groan within the pain of the whole creation. The ancient doctrine of the Trinity teaches us to recognize the One God in the tears of Jesus and the anguish of the Spirit.”
It’s good to celebrate the good things that we still have in the midst of difficult times, but the simple fact is that celebration doesn’t always help us heal. To people who are hurting, the sight and sound of celebration is often experienced as anything but healing. And in our own selves, rushing to celebrate in the face of tragedy or trauma can short circuit our need for healing by numbing our sense of that need. If we want to help others to find deep healing, and if we want to experience deep healing within ourselves, we need to be ready to lament with others and we need to be ready to grieve. Knowing that God grieves with us and that, in Jesus, he has already overcome evil and death, can set us free to grieve like nothing else and, in the process, experience the power of Christ’s resurrection touching the deepest hurts in our lives and in the world.
Bishop N.T. Wright observes that, “As the Spirit laments within us, so we become … small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell.” That’s what I believe Jesus may be inviting us to experience this Holy Week and Easter, the deep healing that comes with knowing that the God who suffered and died for us in Jesus and who raised Jesus from the dead still grieves with us and for us. It won’t be the kind of celebration we’re used to, but by God’s grace it may be more life-giving and more healing than any Holy Week or Easter we have ever experienced before.
Home Prayers for Holy Week & Easter
Because we are not able to gather for Holy Week and Easter in the ways that we are used to this year, we’ve prepared some simple prayers for you to offer at home. Our hope is that they will help you contemplate the mystery of God’s saving acts in Jesus, and that by God’s Spirit we will be gathered together in the offering of these prayers, even while we remain apart. You can find them here on our website to read or to download and print at home.
Where the prayers invite you to pray in the first person plural by saying “we” and “our,” I invite you to imagine saying these prayers alongside your church family at St.Paul’s, even if you are on your own. I will be offering these prayers each day, so you can know that, at the very least, you will be praying them with me.
Thank you once again for being part of our church family. Please know that we are praying for you and that you can reach out to us any time to let us know how you are doing, and how we can be praying for you and supporting you in the days ahead.
God bless you and grant you a deeply meaningful Holy Week and a truly glorious Easter.
Rev. David Turner +