You know what’s really uncomfortable?
Watching yourself on video for upwards of an hour.
I’ve been committed to watching/participating in all of the offerings that our ad hoc liturgy group in the diocese put together for Holy Week, seeing what kind of experience it would offer for personal reflection and devotion, and then writing to all of you about it. Not as a review, per se, but as a reflection on what it is to experience “Virtual Holy Week…” But this offering- Maundy Thursday- has been tough, since I am the sole figure in the videos. I am sure that folks like Brad Pitt and Meryl Streep have grown accustomed to seeing themselves on screen, but for me, it’s a little jarring. (you can find it at https://diocesecpa.org/holy-week-2020-maundy-thursday/)
I’ve always been quick to say that Maundy Thursday is my “favorite day in Holy Week.” (Is it right to have a favorite?) I’ve been trying to unpack that this week as I’ve been moving through the services and gestures of the days. Maundy Thursday smells like fresh bread to me. It is the color of soft leather. It is lit by candlelight, and the soundtrack is of quiet singing of unison hymns by male voices. It is touch, it is gentle, it is loving. For me, these are the sensory inputs of the day. A cook by trade and avocation, the gathering of people around a table to join in fellowship is very high on the list my favorite things to do. And so, a day in the church calendar in which we share table fellowship, remember Jesus’ last meal with his disciples and receive the institution of the meal that sustains us, spiritually, today? It’s right up there on the list of my top two or three days to be in church.
But we are not in church this year. We can’t stack up the towels and heat up the kettle and pour soothing water over tired feet in a gesture of love and servanthood. We won’t gather for the meal. We won’t pray in the church as it grows darker and emptier as the sacred ornaments- candlesticks, crosses, linens- are carried away and the chancel is prepared as if a tomb. One of the most moving Strippings of the Altar that I ever witnessed was in my former cathedral where the dean not only stripped the altar but also took a soapy wet rag to it and lovingly washed it, at the end… almost like a body.
No. We’re not doing that. Instead, I’ve invited us, by video, to share a quiet meal with me in my home. It is brief. It is an icon. I’ve set a small altar with some of my sacred objects to study and pray with in these next days. And I’ve offered the reading of Psalm 22 in which I hear- do you?- the voice of Jesus, the voice of his loved ones, as he hangs on the cross.
We’re getting in deep, now in Holy Week. It is the triduum. My prayer is for soft and gentle steps along your way as you sit with the disciples, follow Jesus to the garden, trace his steps to his trial and to the cross. I pray you a holy vigil as you wait and watch the rock set before the tomb and then, on Easter… well, we’ll get there when we get there. For now, receive the beauty of this night in which we receive the mandatum, in which we are told to “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)