April 6, 2020
Dear Friends in Christ at Saint John the Evangelist,
Greetings and blessings to each of you as we enter together into Holy Week. In the following letter I hope to do two things.
First, I want to acknowledge how strange and, perhaps for some, difficult this week is. We are not gathering under one roof. We will not be together, at least not physically, during this time, and much if not most of our observance of this most sacred time of year will feel different if not altogether alien. We will be missing some of the ancient symbols or seeing them in wholly new ways. There is already grief over what we’ve given up during this season of quarantine and sheltering in place. And, there is anticipatory grief over those things, and perhaps people we have yet to lose in the weeks and months ahead. Be tender with yourselves. Be tender with one another. We have been called and gifted and discipled as followers of Jesus for times such as these. Let us hold fast to the difficult truth that Resurrection hope does not come easy and without loss.
Second, I want to help orient you to the coming Triduum at Saint John’s. As per our Presiding Bishop the Most Reverend Michael Curry’s and our Diocesan Bishop, the Right Reverend Brian Prior’s instructions, during this time we are to model the love of Christ by refraining from gathering for corporate worship. We will, as we’ve been for three weeks, worshipping in our homes. Tomorrow a comprehensive and detailed email will be coming with instructions on how to prepare for the Triduum or Great Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil. You will want to gather items in your home and prepare (if you haven’t already) a sacred space for these liturgies in your home. Each service, or the parts led by and streamed via Zoom, will begin at 5PM. Our hope is that this will allow all ages to be with us to see and experience some of the elements of Holy Week. A PDF packet will accompany the Holy Week email tomorrow. Our hope is, if you have the ability, that you will print it off for your household to use during the liturgies. The liturgies are adapted from the Book of Common Prayer 1979 if you have copies, and you will be able to follow most of each service in the book (page numbers will be provided).
Maundy Thursday we will have a “hand washing” ceremony similar to the foot washing service we’ve become accustomed to. You’ll want to prepare ahead with bowls of water and towels. And, when the liturgy concludes we encourage you to host, with prayers provided, an “Agape” meal, elements of which will be suggested in the instructions. After, you’ll be encouraged, on your own, to “strip” your altar or sacred space of any adornments, much as you’ve seen done at Saint John’s. Thursday night you will be invited to keep Vigil with Christians around the globe. You can log in to our Facebook Page, if you want, and let us know you’re keeping vigil and when, or simply “watch and pray” in your own way in your home.
Good Friday will be simpler still with hymns, prayers, and, if you have one, a cross on your home altar for a time of devotion and veneration.
Holy Saturday morning there will be a liturgy in the morning from the Prayerbook, streamed on Facebook after weekly Morning Prayer. And then we will have a modified Easter Vigil. You’ll be invited to gather a bowl of water symbolizing baptism, candles, bells (to ring at our Alleluias), and together we will reset our altar and hear anew the story of God’s saving acts.
Easter morning, we will gather with Episcopalians around the world in participating online in a livestream service from the National Cathedral at 10:15AM.
Of course links and guidance will all be supplied. We will sing familiar hymns and touch on familiar rites, and pray familiar prayers. And yet, undoubtedly, it will feel quite new. In the absence of what is not present, the sacraments, the people sitting near at hand, perhaps even a sense of relief that the danger has passed, in missing all of these things we might also cultivate a deeper desire for them. Pay attention to your yearnings this Holy Week. Follow those yearnings into a deepened desire to strengthen your connections to the community, to participate regularly, when we return to life in physical community, in the Eucharist, and commit to being an agent of hope and love to a world that is so in need.
I am grateful for the way this community has risen up to meet the challenges of these days. For the Care Group leaders and liaisons, the Vestry and Circle of Care pastoral team, your clergy, staff, and all of you that are contributing in ways large and small to keep the essential mission and ministry of Saint John’s thriving in times such as these. Thank you for all you do!
See you in worship!
Below are two links to letters from +Michael Curry, and +Brian Prior offering counsel and guidance on worship and some teaching on sacramental theology for this time of Physical Distancing and Sheltering in Place. I commend them to you.