Over the next eight days, the Christian world will find its way out of the season of Lent, and into the season of Easter, following the path of Christ’s final days on earth. Many of us are wondering how this sacred tradition will play out in a time of pandemic and social distancing. The story doesn’t change, but our participation and engagement will have to.
So here, for you, is the Holy Week Social Distancing Challenge, a meaningful engagement for you and your family in the story of Jesus, from Palm Sunday to Easter Vigil. Feel free to play along with the calendar, or just to pick and choose as you are able. And please, if you are so moved, leave a little note about your experience in the comments.
Although the details vary, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is described in every one of the canonical Gospels. This was near the end of Christ’s public ministry, and word of him had already travelled ahead. Christ was already causing a stir in the empire with his sermons and miracles, and everyone wondered what sort of revolution he would bring. Christ chose to enter Jerusalem on a humble donkey, to signify peace. The people sang psalms and laid down cloaks and palm leaves in his path. In the idiom of the day, a new kind of king had arrived.
What can you do to signify peace in a time of panic and pandemic? Change your profile picture to a palm frond? Sing to someone you love? Share a Psalm that’s meaningful to you? As we enter the last week of Jesus’ mortal life, we enter not only the literal story, but also the metaphor of the Peace he brings.
While some traditions look to the cleansing of the temple on this day, most reflect instead on Mary’s anointing of Jesus. Mary knew Jesus was going to die, and had already purchased expensive oil to anoint him with. Judas Iscariot, thinking of the traditional Christian message to sell all you have and give it to the poor, questioned the expense. Christ responded, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Most of the time, we do need to be frugal, especially now, when groceries and toilet paper and prescriptions and protective equipment are in such short supply. In fact, many are questioning capitalism itself right now. But sometimes a little splurge in word or deed is necessary. Sometimes those you love need to be shown that they matter. Mary’s anointing did involve expensive oil, but it also involved an intimate and meaningful act of service to someone she loved. Whom do you love? Whom would you “anoint” with your service? Show someone you love them today, in a way that means something to them.
Traditionally, many Christians observe Jesus’ predictions of his own death today. But remember that for Jesus, death was only still the beginning. The miracle of Easter has more to do with Jesus rising than Jesus dying.
What transformation will you go through in this season? When this pandemic is over, what version of you will rise from these dark times? Spend some time reflecting, as Jesus did, on where you’ve been, where you’re going, and what baggage you plan to shed along the way.
Today, Christians reflect on the role of Judas Iscariot, identifying Christ for the soldiers who would arrest him. It was a terrible act of betrayal, but also a necessary act to complete the Paschal mystery.
This is another day of reflection. How have you been betrayed? How has life let you down? What necessary processes came about because of it? Can you forgive other people and circumstances, as Christ surely forgave Judas? Can you see how you’ve grown? This is not an invitation to revictimize yourself, but rather to let go, if you’re able, of the trauma you have suffered.
Tenebrae is a Latin word meaning “shadows.” It is celebrated in the evening or early morning of the last three days of Holy Week. During traditional Tenebrae, the candles in the church are gradually extinguished as scripture is read, sung or chanted.
What scripture centers and anchors you in these dark times? Read it out loud throughout the evening hours, gradually dimming the lights in your house. Do this as a prayerful, meditative, centering act. What thoughts and images does this meditation bring up for you? Are you prepared for the Light to be extinguished?
Maundy Thursday remembers the Last Supper, and the origins of Holy Communion. Maundy means “commandment,” and it refers to Christ’s final commandment for us to love one another.
Share a meal with someone you love. If you can’t do so in person, use FaceTime, or Skype or Zoom. Break bread together. Remember that we are all part of the Christian body. Do this in love, and in remembrance of him.
Good Friday and Holy Saturday
Good Friday commemorates Christ’s crucifixion and death, and Holy Saturday the time between death and resurrection. We are meant to mourn. The altar remains bare. Services are somber, quiet.
What can you do to quiet your soul in times of trauma? How do you stay centered when life is difficult? This is a day for fasting and reflection. What distractions can you remove from your life today?
Although technically this is no longer part of Holy Week, Easter Vigil begins in darkness, on the evening of Holy Saturday. In the darkness, a new fire is kindled, and the lights that were previously extinguished are brought back, one at a time, as the Light of Christ spreads.
Share some light with the ones you love. Know that the dark days will soon be over. Center yourself on the symbolic rebirth and resurrection to come.
Christ is Risen. Christ is Rising.
Easter Sunday is the first day of Eastertide, and the reason most churches choose Sunday for their day of worship all year round.
Today, reconnect with those who hold you up. Reach out to someone who fills your spirit, and let them know. The church is the people. Connect to your people, however and whenever you are able.