I took the picture just a few minutes ago. For the first time since Sunday, I stopped by the church. I was there for 4 1/2 minutes. If this is spread by breathing, fewer people using fewer breaths keeps the church as clean as possible. But I couldn’t resist taking the picture. Because last Sunday at the words “He hid himself from them and left the temple” the cross should have been veiled.
It wasn’t. The ceremonies of the church support and direct us two the Divine Liturgy. They teach us about Christ and His work. They point us to the Gospel and Sacraments, which are our life. Even and especially in a time of fasting such as this.
There are two reasons you can still see the Lord of Life in the throes of death: The first is touching & time. We’re trying to do as little of it in as little of it as possible. Less touching, less time. Service Sunday was 45 minutes. This Sunday will be the same. When we gather to celebrate the resurrection this year (God willing), it will also be shortened. Palms will be pre-placed, not carried in procession. The Easter dressing of the altar will be done before the service. To limit the spread of germs to the fewest opportunities possible, we are limiting services to the Lord’s Day only, and all mid-week activities are cancelled until further notice. It’s where we are. We are huddled (at a safe social distance!) around the bare essence of the gift: The Word and Sacrament. Many are sequestered in their homes, fed only with the Word. The pastor is reduced to providing copies of Portals of Prayer at the mailbox across the road. That’s my role now for many of my members, and if that’s all I can do to support them, then that’s what I’ll do. For others, all I can do is pray and check in via phone every so often.
For those of us that can still gather, ceremonies to support and teach are abandoned for the sake of that which is commanded. Hunger makes the best gravy – we are hungry for the Body and Blood like never before.
There is another reason, and I admit it’s a selfish one: I can’t bring myself to do it. This part of Lent is the most stark. Gloria Patri is added to the growing list of things which are omitted. But given how badly things are for so many, I can’t take from them (or from myself) the image of our Lord. As hard as it may be to look on that image, it is harder to look and see him hidden. We need that image now, more than ever.
In the annals of the church and her liturgy, this Lent is the Lent when the cross went unveiled. We have already given up too much to fast from the sight of our salvation hanging on the cross.
For those who think the liturgy is cold and unemotional, I suggest you try going to a church on Lent 5 when the images are veiled, or on Maundy Thursday when the altar is stripped, or on Good Friday when the lights are dimmed and the book is slammed shut, or on Easter Sunday when the lights are restored, the organ roars to life, and the Gloria is returned to its rightful place. Each year, the lump in my throat gets larger.
But this year, the lump is large enough. Tears are being shed the world over. As we enter the holiest week of the year, our people need to be able to see their salvation. I can’t bear to hide it from them or myself this year. Because I’m seeing all around me the hiddenness of God. And I’m praying like mad that he would reveal himself – if not in glory with trumpets and angels to bring an end to this world, then at least to stop the avenging angel and it’s march of death around the world.
In such circumstances, the mercy and love of God needs to be as clear as can be. The cross is unveiled. This Lent, look freely on your salvation! Behold the life giving cross, and the Savior who hung there to earn the salvation of the world!
Come quickly Lord Jesus.