A Reflection on Holy Week in Exile
It’s Great and Holy Saturday. Yesterday was Holy Friday, the day that we commemorate the crucifixion and burial of our Lord, and we went to bed last night sorrowful, but hopefully, because we know how the story ends. We went to bed last night feeling that the world lost something great, and even this morning awoke to the world itself crying as the rain fell down. But, we still know that tomorrow morning we shall be celebrating the resurrection. However, as I contemplate this fact, I can not help but think about the disciples on that fateful Holy Saturday. There was a degree of fear, of hopelessness, of uncertainty that they felt which is fully absent in our celebrations normally. However, this year, it’s slightly different. We are in a situation of uncertainty, of mild hopelessness, of discontent. Even though Jesus had taught the disciples over and over again, and even showed them in the Scriptures where it was prophesied that He would be raised from the dead, they were still alone, afraid. And that’s where we are.
This Lenten season has been an unusual one, to say the least. And this week, this Holy Week, is no exception. Where most of us would be spending parts of each day in Church, we’ve been told that we can not do so. We’ve been told instead to remain at home, to avoid large gatherings, to remain “outside the camp,” in exile.
And, it’s a Holy Week that I am extremely grateful for. It’s one, for me, from which there is no return to “normal.” It’s been a season characterized by the Lord’s commandment to “be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 45:11 LXX). With most of our places of entertainment and distraction closed, the government is basically telling us to be still. To remain in our homes, unless it is absolutely necessary to leave. It’s time that I have been able to dedicate to the Lord. To read His Scriptures, to worship Him.
Further, however, it has revealed to me the weaknesses of my own faith. It has forced me to confront, in a time of isolation, what priority I’ve given to which thing in my life. It’s been my own personal time “in the desert,” time to inflect and evaluate my own life. While on effective lock down, how often do I actively go into my prayer corner versus actively seeking distractions in my life. How often do I reach for the Scriptures versus streaming whatever random television show; how often do I stand in prayer versus scrolling through social media feeds.
It’s also given me the opportunity to confront the pride of thinking somehow that I am in control of anything in the world. We have a hard time confessing that most things in our life are beyond our control. James teaches us, “come you who say, ‘today or tomorrow I will go to such and such city…and make a profit,’ whereas you should say, ‘if the Lord wills it, we shall live and do this and that.'” Much like the apostles on that Great and Holy Saturday, it has been very humbling to think that for all of our progress, for all of our science and knowledge, for all of our wealth and plans; we are still subject to the will and the mercy of God. My will, and I confess I don’t know a single Christian, who would have chosen this plan for Holy Week, however, it’s a great moment to remember that we daily pray, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” This Lenten season has been greatly humbling to me as I confront the reality of that very statement. How many times have I deceived myself into thinking that I was doing something that was His will, when in reality it was my own will that I was obeying.
This week has also caused me to confront another painful reality. Every now and again, as I struggle through many things, I frequently neglect prayerfulness and instead struggle (unsuccessfully) with it in my own power; until I could get to Church, confess it, and move on. During this time of “exile,” this time “outside the camp,” it has made me confront this weakness and instead turn more frequently to prayer, seeking the grace of our Lord rather than the advice of others, or, God forbid, seeking the answers on my own.
Further, this week has been such a great time of instruction for me with my son. We’ve been streaming the liturgies, and it’s given me a priceless opportunity to explain each part of it to him, and to answer questions which he had that I would never have been able to answer in the midst of the actual services of the Church. To explain to him why we stand at certain parts, what was going on in other places, what the processions mean, etc. Also, we’ve been following along with the daily Gospel readings and it’s given me the chance to read them, translating them down to a 6 year old’s level of comprehension, and I’ve been able to stop and take the time to explain things to him and to give him visuals. He didn’t understand what a “crown of thorns” was, and I was able to stop and take him outside to show him a thorn and allow him to feel the prick of it on his finger. Then taking that, he could better understand the feeling of a crown of them wound together and placed on Jesus’ head. He didn’t understand what a spear was, so we walked away for a moment and I grabbed a spear and allowed him to hold it, to feel the point, and see how far he could reach with it, thereby bringing more to life to him the situation when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side, while understanding how he could reach His ribs while He was hanging on the cross. And after, I could teach him based on the reading how and what we were to learn from the lesson.
Lastly, and perhaps the reason that I am most grateful for this unusual Lenten seasons is this. As millions of Christians have been forced to celebrate the services in their homes, it’s caused us to become much more intentional about our worship. To find a place in their homes to build their own Church. I saw a meme on social media that I enjoyed, it was Satan and Jesus looking down on the world and Satan says, “well, they canceled Church on Easter, I guess I won,” and Jesus looks back and says, “I just built a Church in the home of every single follower, no you didn’t.” Having to be more intentional has also given each of us the chance to evaluate our faith. Someone once told me that “it’s easy to find God when you’re locked in a Church,” and that statement has never had more power in my life than it has during this season. It’s so easy to stay focused on prayer and worship when you are standing in the middle of the nave, but what about at home? What about with the dogs barking, the kids screaming, the neighbors obnoxiously blaring loud music, Netflix whispering sweetly seductive promises. It’s required me to be more intentional and focused on prayer and worship; to be much more aggressive about seeking after God. It’s become a constant struggle to stay focused, unlike before when I had to be focused enough to get in the car and once I was there, I was free from all distraction.
I don’t know when any of this will end. I anxiously await the exact moment when I will be able to once more commune with my amazing family, whom I miss so greatly. Each of my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. I can’t wait to regularly commune with them again and to be physically a part of the Liturgy again. But, as Lent is a time for spiritual maturity and growth, I pray that the lessons of this Lenten season are not forgotten. I pray that God grant me the grace and the humility, the discernment and the guidance, to never go back to what was my “normal.” Tomorrow we will sing “Christ is Risen!” and I pray that all of us will accept and rejoice in this rebirth that we have partaken of. I pray that this truly Holy Week, this week “set apart” for God, will help me and each of us grow in our spiritual lives, and that we remain intentional, focused, prayerful, and humble; that rather than awaiting the liturgies to seek God, we seek Him every moment of our life.
This Lenten season was nothing like any of us would have chosen, but, for me at least, it is exactly for that reason that I needed it so much. And I am ever so thankful for His providence for that fact.
Christ IS Risen.