Mourning and Weeping in the Valley of Tears (or, Holy Week in the Time of COVID-19)

I am watching online Palm/Passion Sunday services from Washington National Cathedral. As always, the music sounds lovely, the pieces carefully chosen, the readings well articulated, the sermon thoughtfully delivered. What struck me most was watching the altar party waving their palms in front of empty choir stalls in a cathedral devoid of people. How the dries of “Crucify him!” were shouted by a handful of people and not the whole congregation.

We are at the beginning of Holy Week. There are many traditions we will participate in. We will no doubt watch/listen to Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. We will make tuna noodle casserole and eat hot cross buns. We will eat cheesy potatoes and glazed ham – from Honey Baked Ham this year, because if it is the end of the world, you splurge on the good stuff. And I just received some lovely dress shirts that would have been beautiful for Easter Sunday.

What we won’t do is witness the washing of feet or the stripping of the altar without the filter of a camera. We won’t recalibrate the speed of our recitation of the Psalm 22 during the veneration of the cross so we finish close to the same time. We won’t struggle to read along by candlelight, smell the burning of the first light of Easter, feel the sprinkling of asperges, witness the church transform from darkness to light at the Vigil. We will not be intoxicated by the aroma of spring flowers or see the kids scrubbed shiny in their new Easter outfits. As choir members, we are not “tech week level exhausted” by the end of Easter Mass.

And, for the seventh time (at least) since this self-imposed quarantine started, I am profoundly sad.

The first time was leaving the theatre after our last rehearsal of Something Rotten. The second and third times were when I said goodbye to my new co-workers who I have grown to respect and care for very quickly. The fourth was the next day at a good friend’s birthday party when his mother took a picture of us peeps – knowing it would be a long time before we would see each other again. The fifth occurred the weekend when we finalized details to temporarily lay off most of the Erie Playhouse staff. Then came the news of Chef Floyd Cardoz’s death – when it hit home that I knew one of the 1000 people in the US who had died of COVID-19.

But, Holy Week will come – has come, actually. We will clumsily stagger through the virtual rites and rituals. Virtual is defined as “almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition.” We will have virtual Holy Week. Almost Maundy Thursday, Nearly Good Friday. A not completely or according to strict definition Vigil.

But, what buoys me in the sad time is that Easter will come. It will come just the same. Nothing can stop it – not a Grinch or a stay at home order or a horrible virus. There will still be an empty tomb. Women bearing myrrh and spices. Apostles hiding in an upper room. And a glorious resurrection.

There is nothing virtual about that.

And that gives me solace in this Most Holy Time.

May it do the same for you.

8 thoughts on “Mourning and Weeping in the Valley of Tears (or, Holy Week in the Time of COVID-19)

  1. Marcia Lockwood says:

    Beautifully expressed, as you took us through this very unusual Holy Week this year. You kept it holy and very moving.

  2. Lianna says:

    Bless you for that hope-filled message. I, too, miss singing with my choir, so I can relate somewhat. This is an experience that the entire world is sharing, in many different forms. Isolated at home, I can still feel connected to people everywhere.

  3. Judith S Mack says:

    Thank you for these beautiful thoughts at this difficult time. Indeed Easter will come. God is still with us and provide hope for the future.

  4. Thank you, Michael, for your words and wisdom. Your writing here, as well as the comments you’ve left during Lent Madness, have really enriched my Lent.
    I pray you stay healthy, and that you and yours have a wonderful Easter.
    See you next year! Happy Lent!

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