A global pandemic has challenged everything we thought we knew about the world around us, the people we interact with (or don't), and our very definition of the word normal. Especially as we enter into the conclusion of a High Holy Season and find that all of our annual rituals have been disrupted by a disease that is no respecter of persons, class, creed, color, age, religious persuasion, or lack thereof. All it needs is a host, and anybody will do.
This was going to be a post about how this will be the first Easter in almost 20 years that I have been un-churched. I parted ways with my church home of 18 years late last year, and as with all long term relationships, I have chosen to make sure that I am healed, and have done some extensive internal work before entering into on another relationship.
But a global crisis was declared, and among many social distancing edicts issued, it was suggested that religious institutions move their observances online in order to reduce the spread to those most at risk of serious complications from this disease: the elderly, and those with underlying medical conditions that render them among the immuno-compromised.
So now, at least physically, we are all somewhat un-churched.
One of the rituals that we practice during this season is the stripping of the altar. Performed in complete silence, it involves the removal of all of the vestments that are normally on the Altar, and the wiping down of the Altar itself. And while I know that it is meant to symbolize one very specific thing, I can't help but find myself moved by the thought that there is something else being shown to us as believers as well.
Everything we cling to as "normal" has been stripped away during this Lenten season. We may have chosen something to fast from on Ash Wednesday, but perhaps our Spirit has been shown what we REALLY needed to eliminate not just during this season, but going forward: the artifice that we construct to make our lives appear acceptable before others so that we can be acceptable to ourselves. Our judgment of people that we see as beneath ourselves, even if all they are is different. What the great Commandment ( Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” - Matt 22 37-40) really means, do we believe it, and are we prepared to follow that to wherever it leads, even if that place is only our couch.
What has been stripped away, I think anyway, is the "religion" part of our rituals, leaving us to focus on the relationship part of our connection, not necessarily one to another, but absolutely between God and ourselves. Deep down in the most private parts of yourself that no one but God can see, who are you, really, and have you been honest enough with, and about, yourself to get real with God? Spring cleaning isn't just about your material possessions. Lent is the opportunity to clean out he internal mess that keeps us stuck in places that we should have moved on from long before we were ready to admit that we were in a place that was doing more harm than good, even if it didn't start out that way. Habit is a brutal taskmaster, and our Lenten promises to replace bad habits with good shouldn't just include the physical manifestations of our internal struggles. We should be moving to clear our mental and emotional closets as well. Perhaps by having us forced to stay home, and abstain from everything we use to distract ourselves from ourselves, we have been given the opportunity to clear every closet in our minds and spirits, and finally let go of ideas, habits, rituals, and whatever else no longer serves it's intended purpose.
As we go forward into this Holy Weekend, we are of the belief that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ set us free from the sins of the world. We hold ourselves in bondage by clinging to internal things that we consider sacred that have little or nothing to do with our relationship to God, but everything to do with wanting to maintain appearances of whatever gives us comfort. This season has given us permission to finally, let these things go.