I need to say this clearly and unambiguously: congregations should not gather together in places of worship until this crisis has passed. Churches that do are being flagrantly irresponsible. Love of God and love of neighbor demand creative and loving responses to crises, like the current crisis, and care for the vulnerable populations among us (of which I am according to my age!). That said, this is more for today. More for this week.
This Holy Week is unlike any other I have experienced. Yet it is Holy Week. And, the coronavirus crisis notwithstanding, we honor it. We don’t celebrate it; we will save our celebrating for resurrection day and beyond. And even that will be appreciably different this year. To understand this week in God’s redemption story, is to seek to follow Jesus in his passion, his suffering, his hour of greatest need, his death and burial.
I will have the honor of leading worship and speaking for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services this week for Gates Presbyterian Church, in Rochester NY. Both will be at 7:00pm, and can be followed in real time or delayed time. Both will be led from my home. In the Thursday service, I will lead us in participating in the Lord’s Supper. If you plan on joining us, have some wine or juice and bread ready, with a separate cup and piece of bread for each person communing. The link for these services and other worship services at Gates Presbyterian, including Easter day, is
(I will also be their preacher for the second, third, and fourth Sundays of Easter, April 19, 26, and May 3, respectively, which will be virtual virtual as well; we already know that about the first two; I expect it will be for the third one too.)
Early in this Lent, our world changed, and with it our vocabulary. New phrases using old words became routine. Social distancing. Stay at home. Shelter in place. Self-quarantining. Essential travel only. Essential jobs only. Stop touching your face (just writing that makes me want to touch my face!). Wash your hands frequently, for at least 20 seconds and rinse with hot water. I tired of singing “happy birthday” while washing my hands, so I started singing the first verse and chorus of “Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine.” That fills 20 seconds and gives me some needed perspective. And this week I am singing the verses to “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”
A few weeks ago, about the middle of Lent, I read a column by a Roman Catholic priest, Father. James Martin journeying with cancer. He wrote,
“Every weekday for six weeks I would hail a cab and say, ‘68th and York, please.’ Once there, I would stop into a nearby church to pray. Afterward, walking to my appointment in a neighborhood jammed with hospitals, I passed cancer patients who had lost their hair, exhausted elderly men and women in wheelchairs pushed by home health care aids, and those who had just emerged from surgery. But on the same sidewalks were busy doctors, smiling nurses and eager interns, and many others in apparently perfect health. One day it dawned on me: We’re all going to 68th and York, though we all have different times for our appointments.” (NY Times, March 22, 2020.)
Yes, we are all going to 68th and York, in one way or another. This week we follow Jesus to his own 68th and York. He had an appointment there to keep. We all have this appointment with death. We face it filled with hope, because Jesus has gone before us and Jesus goes before us. We do not fear that appointment at 68th and York, or the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognize our human frailty. Our mortality. Our appointment. And, yes, we follow the Lord of glory in his human frailty as he keeps his appointment—all for us.