Midweek Message: "Reflections on The Three Days and More – At Home and Outdoors"

Easter Week 2021

Dear Christian Friends:

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

While we would have preferred to be indoors for the fullness of our usual routines for Holy Week and Easter, we were not lacking for rich worshipful encounters with Christ at home and outdoors during the holy days of pandemic year 2021.

Excellent and beautifully crafted resources provided opportunities for worship at home on Palm and Passion Sunday, on each of the Three Days, and on Easter Day, Resurrection of Our Lord. If you engaged the fullness of these bulletins and their outlines and contents for worship, you had what you needed for faithful observances of these Holy Days. I very much hope and pray that you claimed opportunities to explore the riches of these materials. Thanks so very much to Gordon Lathrop and Gail Ramshaw for again providing these resources to the people of God at Resurrection Church, but also for making them available for use throughout the wider church.

Home worship videos also framed our experiences on Palm and Passion Sunday and on Easter Day. Thanks be to God for, and our sincere thanks to, our readers, prayer leaders, singers, other musicians, videographers, and all others who share in the teamwork of putting together these videos for our worshipful edification.

Moreover, we gathered numerous times in person outdoors for worship. Here are the numbers: 30 braved the wet weather for worship outdoors on Palm and Passion Sunday. The combined attendance for the two Maundy Thursday services was 42, even with a cold, blustery wind. 38 braved similar conditions for the two liturgies on Good Friday. 20 were present for our Easter Vigil. And 95 filled the church and parsonage yards on Easter Sunday after a continental Easter breakfast – with thanks to all those who baked and otherwise put together this breakfast offering. These attendance numbers are respectable and encouraging.

But it’s not about the numbers. Rather, it’s about being gathered by the Holy Spirit to plumb the depths in liturgy of the core realities of the Christian faith. Resurrection Church’s nave was bereft of people, in its own way sepulchral and sad. In contrast, our Memorial Garden, more typically a lonely place, was full of life, well-peopled, and served as centerstage, as it were, for the liturgical drama of The Three Days. On Maundy Thursday it was the Garden of Gethsemane, when those assembled, including an ensemble of choir members, gave voice under Barbara’s leadership to Psalm 88, a psalm of lament, recalling Jesus’ prayerful agony in the garden. On Good Friday, the Memorial Garden was Golgotha, where a roughhewn wooden cross was planted after the procession, and worshipers lined up to place votive candles at the foot of the cross, a gesture of adoration of our Lord Jesus who suffered there. During the Easter Vigil, in our mind’s eye, we could see the Memorial Garden as the place of Jesus’ tomb, a place of resurrection.

These liturgical acts had the effect of consecrating in new ways our Memorial Garden, the place of repose for the remains of many of our beloved church and family members. It was most poignant for me to consider the Memorial Garden as a place of resurrection for those who rest there, when Christ returns at the resurrection at the last day to consummate the fullness of the divine reign.

We often take for granted liturgical spaces. But the pandemic’s strictures of forcing us outdoors help us to take a new look at the places where we worship. Recall that in the Gospels’ reporting, much of Jesus’ ministry took place in settings outdoors where the weather inevitably had effects on the goings on. Our nave is warm in the winter, and cool in the summer, that is to say, always comfortable. Then there was the varied weather this past week for our worship outdoors. On the days of greatest solemnity, focused on Jesus’ Passion, the weather was appropriately and fittingly bracing with precipitation and the threat of rain (and even some snow on Maundy Thursday), along with stiff, cold winds. As the fulcrum shifted in the course of The Three Days, when we arrived at the first celebration of resurrection at the Easter Vigil, the weather, again fittingly, had moderated – clear skies, more comfortable temperatures, and the absence of a bracing wind. Thus, we could sense in our bodies climatic conditions that matched the mood of the narratives of Jesus’ final earthly days that we were remembering and liturgically re-enacting.

Additionally, during the solemn silences of The Three Days, worshipers noted the songs of birds and the sounds of wind chimes on neighbors’ porches, providing another kind of accompaniment to our liturgies.

Also of note, we dared to sing again – “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” on Palm and Passion Sunday, Psalm 88 on Maundy Thursday, some chanted portions of the liturgies on Good Friday and at the Easter Vigil, and then the robust singing of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” on Easter Sunday morning. Indeed, how wonderful it was to give voice in song once again to gospel proclamation after a full year’s hiatus from this central Christian practice. Likewise, how wonderful to hear our choir again in person and live. As I have said, the videos of our choir which Barbara weaves together are quite fine. Choral music live, though, is such a more magnificent gift and aid to proclaiming the good news.

And then, on Easter Sunday, for the church and parsonage yards to be filled with the Resurrection faithful, enjoying coffee and goods baked by the loving hands of our members, was a sight for sore eyes. I’ve never before preached, nor led worship from a house’s outdoor deck, but that location made a fitting chancel for our day’s celebrations. Over the course of the days of Holy Week and Easter, we journeyed from the Memorial Garden on the Potomac Street side of the church to the ground on the Powhatan Street side that contains our “Plot Against Hunger,” our church’s vegetable garden, the donated produce of which benefits those in need in our community. Thus, with this shift in location, and in the joy of and thanksgiving for Christ’s resurrection, our attention was turned to the needs of the world which is our mission field in loving service to our neighbors.

The long and the short of it is that in my estimation, our worship outdoors was not lacking in aesthetic and spiritual poignancy and meaning. The outdoor contextualization in many ways allowed the familiar narratives we heard and re-enacted to speak with new, or at least nuanced meanings, meanings which may have remained hidden and obscure if we were indoors.

Here’s to the spiritual and liturgical silver linings in this year of pandemic deprivation!

In thanksgiving for these opportunities to give new expression to our proclamation that Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Pastor Jonathan Linman