Passion in the Pandemic

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday

On Palm Sunday, I like to let the story of the Passion that we read each year stand a bit more on its own.  I like to let those words work in us, without me getting in the way.  So, in recent years I’ve taken to offering a reflection before the reading of the Gospel on this day, rather than after.  Afterwards, I’d rather have us sit with the words in silence for a while.  So that’s why things are a little out of order today.

For a long time, I’ve spoken of Lent, and Holy Week – along with some of the other seasons and observances of the church – as opportunities for us to practice in the church, what we experience in life and what we proclaim to believe.  In Lent, we practice self-denial, and self-reflection, and concentrated periods of study and prayer, so that when Easter comes, we’ll be more ready to look for signs of life in the Resurrection.  And part of the function of this sort of “planned depression” each year is that it gives us a framework for recognizing it, and learning how to work through it with the lens of faith when those unplanned periods of mourning and sadness fall upon us.  And they always will.

This time, however, things feel a little different.

I don’t know about you, but my emotions have been running a little hotter than they usually do since all this period of isolation and physical distancing began.  I saw the signs coming from watching the news a few days before all these changes went into effect, so I tried to prepare myself.  I tried to start getting plans in place for livestreaming worship.  I tried to wrap my mind around what I would say to you.  I tried to make plans around how we could keep the work of the church office happening while necessarily working remotely.

But no matter how much I prepared, I don’t think I was prepared for this.  So when the decision first really came down, I found myself fighting back tears.  And as the days progressed, I vacillated between tears and anger.  My reactions to each moment felt, somehow, outsized to the realities the moment brought.

In one of our early nights in all the process, Michael and I watched the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – the film about Mr. Rogers that came out not too long ago.  There are certainly moving, and emotional moments throughout the film, but I found it nearly impossible to restrain myself as we watched.  It was like the floodgates had opened.

I tell you about all of this, because I think it’s important that we all remember that our emotions are okay right now.  There’s a reason this period of Jesus’ life that we’re commemorating today and over the next few days is called the “Passion”.  Passion.  It comes from the Latin word for suffering, but somehow suffering doesn’t seem to capture it all.  Passion says more.  It feels bigger – more intense.

As we traverse this week together, think about the emotions you’ve felt so far in the season of at least some measure of suffering.  Use that experience to try to put yourself a little more into the story.  Remember how the disciples – Jesus’ followers – shared in the Passion of these days.

This isn’t about measuring our suffering against Jesus’ Passion.  It’s about using the stories and the commemorations of our faith to begin to give us insight into our own lives.

And through whatever we feel and whatever we face, always remember that the end of the story is life.  Always remember that God is always looking for ways to encourage and to inspire creating.  God is always co-creating with us and with all that is in the universe.

That doesn’t mean the suffering isn’t real.  That doesn’t mean we can’t feel our emotions right now.  We can, and we should.  In fact, if there’s anything to learn from Holy Week – this year in particular – it’s that it’s okay to feel what we feel in times of trauma and tragedy.  That is how we were so wonderfully made by God.  But it does mean that we should remember the lasting wisdom of our faith: to keep journeying on.  This moment is for this moment, but God has more in store.

Let the story of the Passion speak to you.  Let it enfold you.  In time, let it guide you.  Amen.