I remember the first time I was a Rector and planning Holy Week. I was debating about whether to use the reserve sacrament on Good Friday or not. I spoke to a priest colleague, and he shared the philosophy of the Rector under which he was serving: on Good Friday, not even the consolation of the Holy Meal is available to us.
When our staff at Hickory Neck first started talking about Holy Week, we were faced with a stark reality: there was no way for us to celebrate Holy Week the way we traditionally do. Sure, we could use technology, and sure, we could try to do parts of what we normally do, but so much of Holy Week is physical and intimate – from waving palms, to washing feet, to kissing crosses, to huddling together around a fire, to having water sprinkled around, to gathering close in the dark, to finally gathering in a huge celebration with large crowds, Easter egg hunts, pictures with friends, and brass instruments. There just is not a way to create that same feel digitally. And so, Holy Week would need to be different.
For those of you who know me, you know Holy Week is superlatively special to me – it is my favorite week of the year. So, for a moment, I grieved that loss, adding it to the long list of things I am grieving during this pandemic. But then I took a deep breath, made room for Holy Spirit as I relaxed my grip on what I falsely imagined was under my control, and let the creativity flow. Before I knew it, we were trying evensong for Maundy Thursday – a service we experienced daily on a recent pilgrimage in England. We were creating a simple, powerful Good Friday liturgy. And, I was trying for the first time a liturgy I had barely noticed in the Prayer Book – a Holy Saturday liturgy.
Holy Week and Easter will not be the same this year. But, in all honesty, nothing is the same in this season of life. If our lives are so distinctly different these days, it makes sense that our liturgies would be different too, as liturgies reflect the life of the people. Somehow, creating this alternative Holy Week has felt like the Church settling in alongside the community and walking in step with them (from a safe distance, of course!). Somehow, recognizing grief, discomfort, and sadness has made room for creativity, hope, and grace. Somehow, experiencing a daily life much more in line with the journey of Holy Week is making Holy Week viscerally palpable, and ultimately healing, life-giving, and strengthening. We still have a long way to go with this virus and its impact, but I am especially grateful for the gift of Holy Week this year.