Dear Church in Quarantine:
“This is going to be the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives,” Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams said yesterday. “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country.”
Christians might want to add “our Golgotha moment.” This is a sober note to begin Holy Week on, and yet perhaps it’s really the only appropriate note. In fact, maybe every other year we have been approaching Holy Week in a strange and foreign key, somewhat distancing our own future death from the significant of Jesus’ death. Holy Week is a long slow march toward a death scene, where a man in his prime slowly runs out of breath and dies of asphyxiation. Easter Sunday ends on a happy note, but begins with grieving hearts visiting a cemetery.
The last two weekends I have snuck off to our family cabin in Starbuck with a kid for some quality time. On both trips, I have taken the kids to visit the graves of some of our relatives. I am also renewing a personal Easter tradition of visiting cemeteries to inspire my Easter sermon. A preacher has no business giving resurrection hope until he’s spent some time standing at the grave and looking death in the face.
I don’t want to sound morbid or pour rain on this beautiful Minnesota spring day, but this is not a week to turn our backs on the seriousness of this situation and distract ourselves by binging Tiger King on Netflix. This is a “holy” week — maybe the most memorable of your entire life considering the circumstances — to really take stock of our lives and ask if we have our “affairs in order.”
While you may think I’m being overly dramatic, the fact remains that we will all probably lose a family member or close family friend to COVID-19 in the next month or so. One of my roles as a pastor is to force the unwelcome topic of death onto those who are still trying to push it out of mind. So, allow me to perform my pastoral duty this Monday and ask you point blank: Are you ready to die? Are you ready to say goodbye to a spouse or parent or grandparent? Do you have an unresolved conflict with someone that you should make right just in case?
I want to invite you on a sacred journey this Holy Week as we ponder Jesus’ final dying words on the cross together. Jesus was ready to die, and died well. My thought in this moment has been, “What if we made Jesus’ last words our first response in how we live during this current pandemic?” Now as the death toll rises and the “peak” for deaths in our country’s “hot spots” is anticipated around Good Friday, I find myself adding, “What if our last words were shaped by Jesus’ last words?”
I will be sharing reflections on the Last Words of Jesus throughout this week, as time allows, in the following formats:
- Good Friday Vigil Meditations (available Friday)
- Daily Sparks Video Reflections
- Quarantine Letters
I hope they help lead you to the cross this week, and to the heart of Jesus our Savior!
Grace and peace,