During a typical Holy Week, which isn’t what we are experiencing this year, the worship service that often has the lowest attendance is Good Friday — the day that we mark the crucifixion of Jesus. There are plenty of reasons why this is probably the case, but I think one is the fact that grief and death are hard things for us to engage and sit in. We much prefer our churches on Easter morning filled with lots of people, lots of great music, and lots of celebration.
This Holy Week, this Lent, feels a bit like being stuck in Good Friday. We are experiencing grief over the loss of plans, traditions, jobs, community, routine, and even over the death of people we care about. It can be hard for us to understand that the emotions and exhaustion we are feeling is grief. This article was one that I found very helpful from the Harvard Business Review, naming this for us all. Often when we experience grief we work so hard to jump back into business as usual. However the truth is that it is never back to the same. We are changed by loss and grief. Our normal will look different after COVID-19 than the normal before COVID-19. LIfe for the disciples was not the same after Jesus’ resurrection as what was “normal” before Good Friday.
During this strange Holy Week I keep wondering how it might help me to navigate this unsettling moment we are all experiencing. One of the things that I appreciate more this year is the fact that we as a church have a moment where we are invited into a place that acknowledges grief, loss, and fear. To hear the story year after year of Jesus’ death and how those that he was closest to were impacted with fear, confusion, and isolation. There is no emotion, space, experience, that is too much for God. It is highlighted on Good Friday that Jesus is willing to fully enter the place of pain, despair, isolation, so that we might know love, grace, forgiveness, and life. God is willing to enter and be with you in your grief now.
I personally am grieving the fact that Maundy Thursday will not be marked in my “normal” way this year. I and other deaconesses, deacons, students, and President Heckler won’t be kneeling in the Chapel, inviting others to have their feet washed. We won’t gather around the altar to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. The service typically ends with the stripping of the altar and yet it feels this year like everything has already been stripped away.
This year as I grieve a traditional Maundy Thursday, I have realized how thankful I am that this service helps us to think about the gifts we need as we move into a Good Friday. “Maundy” means commandment and the day lifts up the new commandment we receive from Jesus to love one another. Jesus demonstrates this love by gathering and connecting with his disciples. He washes their feet.
This year more than ever before, the connection of what Jesus chooses to do before the ultimate day of grief is something to pay attention to during this time when we are experiencing so much loss and grief around us. Jesus gathered with those that were closest to him and connected in honest, vulnerable, authentic ways. Jesus lifted up the importance of loving and serving one another. Jesus fed those he loved and promised to show up in the bread and the wine for all God’s people. Jesus went to a garden and prayed.
I am experiencing grief over the loss of a traditional Holy Week. I weep over the fact that I, Pastor Jim, Dr. Kim, chapel staff and countless students won’t be spending four intense days practically living at the Chapel as we move through the moments of Holy Week. Yet in Maundy Thursday Jesus reminds me that during this time of grief the way through it is to love one another. To be honest about the struggle and loss we are experiencing. To connect with those that are dear to us and maybe even share a virtual meal. To take time to pray.
This Holy Week when the world is filled with uncertainty, fear, loss, and grief Good Friday seems a bit more tangible. Good Friday reminds us that Jesus is willing to enter those places of fear, uncertainty, loss, and grief so that we might know grace, forgiveness, and love.
There is no doubt that this Holy Week doesn’t feel normal. It isn’t, yet even the loss of traditions can’t keep the truth of the week away. God loves us and abides with us and promises that even in the midst of grief, loss, uncertainty, and fear — God will bring life.