I'm working on this weeks Sunday School post and I'm a little depressed. Tomorrow starts Holy Week. We will celebrate Palm Sunday. I would usually be deciding whether to make paper palms or palm leaf crosses. Maybe we could reenact the scene of Jesus coming into Jerusalem, with people lining the roadway, throwing their coats on the ground and yelling "Hosanna!" It's an exciting time, celebrating the coming of our King!
And then we swoop down into Maundy Thursday, with Jesus washing the disciples' feet and sharing the bread and wine during the Passover festival. Judas betrays him, and then we follow Jesus to the depths of despair, wishing that what we know is about to happen could be avoided somehow, but knowing that it is the only way to save us from the sins that we have all committed. Good Friday, and Jesus' cruel death on the cross. His final words. His body being stored in a tomb without even a proper burial because it is the Sabbath.
Next Saturday, we will wait with the disciples. They are a dejected bunch. Their grand adventure is suddenly finished. All of their plans, the height of their joy on Sunday, dashed to the ground. Sitting around inside. Afraid to come out, because what if they are recognized as having been associated with an executed criminal?
And here we sit, inside our houses. Unable to meet with our church families. Isolated from each other. No joyous Sunday School projects. No rousing hymns and songs of praise to our coming King. No palm leaves to hand out. There will be no Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services to attend. We won't feel the communal atmosphere of anticipation, or mourn together over the cruel death of our Lord. How can we be holy, this Holy Week, alone?
But we can be holy alone, because we are not wholly alone. The way to spiritual holiness does not change just because our physical location does. Yes, we need each other as Christians, but, no, God is not diminished because we are not physically in the same building. Jesus is still on the throne, and we can still remember that this week, even if our usual celebrations are not possible.
All of Paul's writings that we have in our Bibles are letters. Do you know why? He wrote, because he spent an awful lot of time either in prison, or else far away from the people he needed to communicate with. The following verses are from Paul's letter to the Colossians, and they are all taken from chapter 2:
5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,
7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,
10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.
17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
Our celebrations are wonderful ways to remember God's truths. Getting together and hearing over again the stories of our Lord helps us to have a common life in the Spirit. We are physical beings, and physical activities help us to understand things better. But all of this is apart from our identity as children of God. Verse 10 says that we have been brought to fullness in Christ. Verse 17 says that He is our reality.
Our holiness does not depend on religious celebrations. Going to church doesn't make us holy any more than going to the gym makes us strong. We are holy because of what we do with what we have been given. And we can grow our spiritual muscles alone at home by spending time reading the Bible and praying, just as we can grow our physical ones by doing push-ups and squats in our living rooms.
These are trying times. It is hard to be forced to stay at home. All of our lives have been disrupted by this epidemic. But we are the church. The building is just a building. Our description, and our job, does not change based on our location. So here are my suggestions for Holy Week at home.
Starting on Sunday, read the Biblical account of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem: Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-38, or John 12:12-19.
On Monday, read John 14.
On Tuesday, read John 15.
On Wednesday, read John 16.
On Thursday, read about the plot to kill Jesus, His last supper with His disciples, and his prayer in the garden: Matthew 26:1-46, Mark 14:1-42, Luke 22:1-46, or John 13:1-38, and John 17.
On Friday, read about Jesus' arrest, trial, and crucifixion: Matthew 26:47-27:66, Mark 14:43-15:47, Luke 22:47-23:56, or John 18 & 19.
On Saturday, wait. Meditate on what you have read over the week. Pray. This is the last day of Lent. The punishment for our sins has been meted out.
On Easter Sunday, rejoice as you read about Jesus' triumph over the grave. He is risen! Go ahead and finish up the gospels! Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, or John 20&21.
Remember, just as Paul said, though we are absent in the body, we are present in the spirit! This can be a time of spiritual renewal. Without all of the scheduling and preparations that we usually spend our mental and physical energy on, we can use this time to grow our spiritual muscles. God is calling us to be Holy alone, so that we can be more effective when we are finally allowed to be together.