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Celebrating Holy Week During a Pandemic

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This has been the strangest Lenten season I have ever experienced. The church has celebrated Lent over the centuries as a means of preparing ourselves for Easter. We try to follow the example of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness by going without some things, in order to focus on self-reflection, draw near to God, and give of ourselves to others in need.

But this year whether participating in Lent or not, we’ve all been deprived of much more than we ever thought we would be, and whether or not we ourselves have suffered greatly or not, we are surrounded by many who are or may soon be.

In such a time of deprivation, and being kept from the encouragement of gathering together to worship, it is natural to feel spiritually dry. We might assume that it is during times of abundance and freedom that we most know God’s presence with us and feel spiritually alive, but here, in this moment, the example of Jesus’ temptation in the desert is most encouraging. In the Bible, Jesus went into the desert right after his baptism by John—the moment when the heavens opened and the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love.” Sure in the knowledge of the Father’s love for him, Jesus was able to withstand the deprivation and temptation of the desert season.

The same is true for us in this Lenten season as much as in any. Feeling confident of God’s great love for us, we are free to take to him our struggles with our own deprivation, and what it reveals about our hearts and our priorities. It is in being known and cherished by him that we can begin to see ourselves and our lives more clearly. You may feel this is a time when your fears or your disordered loves are laid bare, but out of God’s love for us, they are being exposed in order to be healed.

This strange Lenten season is drawing to a close as we enter Holy Week with our celebration of Palm Sunday this Sunday, calling us to another keen reminder of the Gospel we cling to right now. Despite the pandemic, we believe that God is still on his throne, deserving of the cries of praise Jesus received as he came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But as we walk with Jesus into Holy Week, we are reminded, perhaps with a new awareness, that ours is a God who has suffered—suffered pain, deprivation, isolation, death. The darkness that we are experiencing is not strange or unknown to Jesus. He has experienced all of it, so he can also bring us through it, bring us beyond it. And because of this, we can believe him when he tells us that we are not alone and he will be with us no matter what may come.