“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech but in truth and action.” — 1 John 3:18
Today, and the next three days leading up to the great celebration of Easter, are going to be really hard ones for many people of faith.
The ebb and flow of our lives are often built around the church year, and no other week in that year is deemed Holy. This is the week when the reasons we walk this journey becomes the most powerfully real — when we are reminded of the the call to servanthood in the washing of the feet or hands, the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar, the humiliation of our Lord in the stripping of the altar and the power of the Cross as we venerate it, hear the Passion Story and sing the evocative Lenten hymns.
But this year, to paraphrase the words used at the Seder suppers of our Jewish brothers and sisters tonight, is different than all other years. This year, our Holy Week is not spent in Christian Community. It is spent in isolation. The pain of this loss is palpable.
However, I have read, with great anger, of some churches and church leaders who are refusing to listen to the doctors and public health officials who maintain that social isolation is the single-best way to address this pandemic. Instead, these church leaders are insisting on continuing to have in-person worship. Others have come up with creative ways to distribute the sacrament at drive-in worship services or drive-through Communion.
But what we are being told, again and again, is that the best way for us as a community to address this time of crisis is to STAY AT HOME. To do nothing to encourage people to go out.
I believe those who are insisting that they continue to gather in worship are actually making false gods of themselves and their faith communities rather than trusting in our God, who showed us what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves.
What we are being called to do is to make a sacrifice, to make a sacrifice of our freedom, our independence and our desire for community for the greater good. We are called to live out the words from 1 John that remind us that worship is empty if it is just about words and speech. In other words, people who insist on worshipping together during this time of pandemic are not loving God in truth and action. And those who remain alone are truly worshipping in that action.
Elizabeth of Trinity, a 19th-century Carmelite nun, said, “Let us ask God to make us true in our love, to make us sacrificial beings, for it seems to me that sacrifice is only love put into action.”
How ironic that on a day when we celebrate the First Communion the best way to remember the one who instituted it and to show love to others is by NOT gathering together as the Communion of Saints. That love in action is our own inaction —staying put.
God who calls us to community, thank you that your communion with us never leaves us so we are never truly alone. Give us peace as we sacrifice our community for the community. Help us to know that these days of isolation are the best way we can love our neighbors and to find the strength to continue to love others even at the cost of being with them. In the name of the one who was alone on the Cross so that we could be united with God we pray. Amen.