by Mary Nitzsche, Associate Executive Minister
For the past four weeks, credentialed leaders have been meeting through Zoom to care, support, and resource one another (learn more here). We have discussed how we are adapting and using new forms of worship, encouraging financial generosity without pressuring or shaming, communicating with our members, offering pastoral care, and navigating end of life and funeral planning challenges.
During this week in particular, we are discovering new ways to walk through the events of Holy Week without being together. Questions emerging from our conversations have included: What about the palm branches we ordered? How do we do footwashing, especially for those who live alone? Do we explore meaningful ways to share communion at a distance or wait until we gather again? Should we postpone our Easter celebration until the pandemic is over?
In response to these questions, creative ideas emerged: sending an email with instructions for making palms at home to wave during the call to worship; adapting a simple Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service to a Live Stream format; inviting members to submit a one-minute video giving witness to resurrection in the midst of COVID-19 to be played during the Easter service; sending a care package to each family with children as an alternative to an egg hunt.
Perhaps one of the most important questions raised was What do we believe about resurrection in the midst of so much uncertainty, loss, and suffering? The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us that illness, loss, grief, and death are a part of our human reality as a global community. We are being forced to acknowledge, not deny or avoid, our human limits, brokenness, and mortality.
Our faith has been shaken. How can a loving God allow so much loss, suffering, pain, and death? Like the crowd that lined the streets to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with waving palm branches, we cry out, “Hosanna, save us Lord.” Do something quick to fix our horrendous mess!!
Instead of immediately and miraculously answering the crowd’s cry for salvation, Jesus faced a week of ridicule, hatred, and questioning by the religious and political leaders, betrayal and denial by his disciples, and a brutal and cruel death on the cross.
We are invited to consider the core tension of our faith as Jesus boldly stated, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (New Revised Standard Version, Luke 9:23-24).
The journey from death to life is one of pain, suffering, and loss. This pandemic invites people of faith to hold in tension fear and trust, despair and hope, death and life. The cross and the empty tomb remind us that new life springs forth from death.
After Jesus was crucified, the disciples went into hiding behind locked doors. They were consumed with grief and the loss of Jesus, their teacher. They were uncertain of their future. The first Easter morning, the women returned with the too-good-to-believe news that the tomb was empty and Jesus had been raised to life.
As we take up our cross and daily follow Jesus during this time of COVID-19, what glimmers of hope are you holding onto that point to new life? How can you bear witness to the good news that actions of love overcome evil leading to life in the midst of despair and death?