Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Liturgical Name For What We Are Going Through

A Liturgical Name For What We Are Going Through
By The Rev. Rock Higgins

This year many of us are fearful and grieving our way through Lent. My children joked with me that they never knew that we were giving up church for Lent. As a priest, the loss is deep. For many of us, clergy or not, it is profoundly felt. My greatest vocational joys are leading God’s people to connect personally and collectively with the Almighty. Now, though, we are seeking ways to do that without direct connection, without the spontaneous feedback of body language, dialogue, touch. I grieve the loss of our community, in its gatherings anyway. Added to that, I am an extrovert, and topping off my energy levels is another aspect of this time which is tangible and missed. We have the loss of joint liturgy. I can say the words, “The Lord be with you!” over Facebook Live, but the words ring hollow with the lack of any heard response. The different responses of each parishioner when I place the bread in their hand during the Eucharist . An intimacy develops between priest and parishioner that is unspoken, unknown to anyone else, each person unique. These things help establish a sense of normality in our lives. They are gone. The grief is great.

When our Bishop rightly made the call to cease public worship, my first thought was for Holy Week. My favorite liturgies in the whole year are the Triduum. Each and every liturgy, beautiful and haunting in its own right. All four. Yes, all four.

As I have been thinking through these emotions particularly towards Holy Week, though, I have gone through the liturgies and collects in my head, and it struck me that we actually do have a rite that speaks to where we are. We often ignore it. For me, since I started as the Rector in my current parish, it became my practice to include it. A faithful eight or so actually join with me. It is so overshadowed by its counterparts that it is ignored at best, unknown to most.

Slipped in between the horror of Good Friday and the eventual joy of Easter Vigil is a quiet service that sits with our grief and our fear; it recognizes it and honors it. It is the liturgy of Holy Saturday.

Think of the feelings that the disciples shared as given in Scripture. They were between the known, which was horrific, and the fearful unknown, that ended up being far greater than they could hope for or imagine, but they sat in ignorance of what was to come. We have heard with great trepidation what we have heard about Wuhan or Italy or emerging hot spots here in the States. It is on its way, if not already here. Those looming feelings of dread so closely mirror the disciples’. What might that tell us? In our liturgies we have the gift of Holy Saturday.

In the Book of Common Prayer, it sits on pages 283. That is all. A single page. A collect with 6 readings, 2 of those optional. It speaks to the isolation, the fear of the unknown, the potential death waiting outside our door.

The Collect speaks to the historical events, while conveying the emotions that are all to applicable to our times:

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the
coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

We are in this In-Between Time. Death is lurking at our door. For the Disciples it was the authorities, religious and Roman. If they could do it to Jesus, it could happen to them. For us, we may have the virus and not even realize it. We isolate. We quarantine. We await the coming of resurrection. But will that resurrection from our self-entombment be for us?

Just as we skip this service, USAmerican culture does not deal with sorrow, grief, or fear well. We ignore it. If we do not recognize it, like some fantasy-filled child in their imaginings, it is not there. Holy Saturday demands us to see and know that death has come, and it could come for us, we just do not know. And that unknowing is the rub. The reason that Governor Cuomo of New York said in a press conference on March 22 this: “The goal for me: be socially distanced, but spiritually connected. How do you achieve [being] socially distanced, but spiritually connected.”[Source] That is where the Church’s call is today, and giving this season a name is a way to begin the response.

We do have a name if we choose to use it, and a liturgy that reminds us that resurrection is coming. But it is not just a day or a single liturgy; we find ourselves in an unintended Season of Holy Saturday. And for many of us recognizing and dealing with these fears and the associated feelings is something entirely new.

This year we will not have the distractions of coloring eggs, or preparing outfits on Holy Saturday. We have no details to fuss over about a huge family dinner. We are sitting in the unknown, awaiting the unknown. So many variables, many terribly negative, only up the anxiety. But as we sit here, we can be the hope of others that can help get them through.

Our liturgies’ strength is through their disciplines. The daily readings in Lent work well for us. They point to Lent’s focus on self-discipline, repentance, and mending of ways. And they direct us to making that connection to God throughout the good times and the bad. One of the readings from Holy Saturday ends with this, which could not be more appropriate:
The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. I Peter 4:8
Focus on your prayers. Maintain your love of one another. Socially distanced. Spiritually connected.

We can lead people to embrace what is, recognize the realities of their worries and their worries’ cause, and guide the people to look forward in hope to the Easter that is to come.

One caution though, we are not spiritualizing our self-distancing as a retreat or spiritual time-out. I have seen much of that online. This undesired time to turn into spiritual retreat is a privilege many of our most fearful elderly and newly unemployed will not be able to see. That is why this shift to a Holy Saturday approach is so important. NOBODY chose this. NO ONE wanted this. But it is here. And as we sit in that reality, as we process those emotions, Holy Saturday gives us words, and meaning, and hope.

Another part of our liturgy is that EVERY Sunday is considered a little Easter. In that spirit, whenever we gather again, and it may be months from now, we will have an Easter celebration with greater meaning, purpose, and joy. I so look forward to that day.

Lastly, in the Holy Saturday liturgy, we are instructed to pray the spoken anthem from our Burial rites. As the Holy Saturday liturgy directs, I close with it here as well.

In the midst of life we are in death;
from whom can we seek help?
From you alone, O Lord,
who by our sins are justly angered.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.

Lord, you know the secrets of our hearts;
shut not your ears to our prayers,
but spare us, O Lord.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.

O worthy and eternal Judge,
do not let the pains of death
turn us away from you at our last hour.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy and merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death.

During this imposed season, may we look to the one who is with us always, even in pandemic.

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Blessings, Rock