What is vital (literally life giving) for liturgy and sacrament-grounded Christians is the necessity to be gathered together with our community of faith from Palm Sunday to Easter Day and on into the great Easter season so we can remember and get as close as we can to the events and experience of the first witnesses of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection.
Every year when we hold palm branches and crosses we're saying, “We were there too when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that donkey. We cheered. We sang Hosanna!”
On the night before he died, when we wash feet or have our feet washed and lovingly towel dried in the laps of sisters and brothers, we’re claiming, “Yes, we were there also at that gripping teaching moment showing authentic servanthood.” When bread is torn open at the table and we're all given a piece and eat it, and then wine poured into a single cup we all drink from, we're remembering how we were there also in that upper room in the company of the first disciples and the one who calls us friends and commands us to love one another.
When we stand at the foot of the cross and touch or maybe kiss its hard wood, we're daring to state, “Yes, we were there too with his mother and John and the other women, witnessing that agony and awful death.” And then, in the deep darkness of the night, startled to see the Easter fire bursting into flame, again we are there with those first stunned witnesses that moment of surprise, realization and deep joy that, somehow, death is overcome and this changes everything.
This year we're not going to be able to set out physically in the same familiar church space to make this annual journey. This is profoundly challenging for us in our frightening isolation and painful apartness. I offer some suggestions I hope can generate a sense being on this journey together, touching and seeing the signs and symbols of our Christian faith, even though we can't smile at, encourage and hug one another.
First, we might keep a daily journal starting on Palm Sunday. It doesn't have to be long paragraphs and pages. Three or four thoughts a day ending maybe with a brief prayer; written by hand on paper or on laptops or iPads. Unless you want to share your writing, it certainly doesn't have to be seen by anyone else.
On Palm Sunday I’m planning to take clippers with me on my walk to cut Pussy Willow branches to bring home and put in a vase on my dining room table so I can continue to say, “Yes! I was there when we threw down branches on the street when he came into town.” (Does anyone else remember from our childhood here in palm-deprived England taking Pussy Willow to church?)
On Maundy/Holy Thursday evening I’ll place a small bowl of water with a towel on my table, dip a thumb in the water, mark a cross on my forehead and remember that I am baptized into the deep mystery of dying and rising. Then I’ll take a hunk of bread to tear in two and eat, saying out loud Jesus’ words to remember him and how his body would be broken open and offered to everyone for healing. As usual, there’ll be a glass of wine on the table which that evening will help me more intentionally remember his blood, shed for me and for all.
On Good Friday I’ll head out for a daily walk imagining it as the Way to the Cross, looking for a piece of driftwood on the beach or a broken branch on the path to put on my dining room altar.
And on Saturday night, with lights switched off, I’ll strike a match to light a new never-used candle and read aloud the story of the Magdalene Mary - the very first witness of the Resurrection - going to the burial cave and finding it empty. Yes, we’ll be there with her and can shout and sing with millions of others around the world and down the ages - and even in 2020 :
“Christ is Risen! Alleluia! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!”