I have today been thinking about his strange new world in which we find ourselves. Yesterday I took a funeral service by Skype. The family were unable to be present, so, the service was streamed live to them. Hard yes, but also moving as those working at the firm came to sit in the service to be present and offer their respects, to share in the sense of universal grief of humanity. As John Donne so eloquently put it “any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.”
I also had the strange experience of blessing palm crosses in an empty church and then stuffing them into envelopes. – all done wearing disposable gloves! After that I walked down the deserted high street to the post office. Here I engaged in the new dance- otherwise known as social distancing whilst getting stamps. I then discovered that trying to put self-adhesive stamps on envelopes whilst wearing disposable gloves is tricky!
Everything is somewhat surreal, and we are all having to work out new ways of living and being in this strange place. What it brought to mind for me was a line from Psalm 137. The people of Israel have been carried away into captivity in Babylon and their captors taunt them, asking them to sing songs of mirth. The people reply…
“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
They remember how they used to sing as they went with joy and in procession up to the temple at Jerusalem, how they sang God’s praises in that holy place. Now, exiled and far from home they long to be back where they belong, they long to worship as they once did.
As we enter Holy Week, we may find ourselves feeling something similar to those Israelites long ago. We cannot worship as we had planned to here for our special Palm Sunday words and music. We cannot come to Compline to be still and quiet as we journey through these last days of Christ. We cannot participate together in the moving drama of Maundy Thursday, nor gather around the foot of the Cross on Good Friday. In this strange and alien world in which we find ourselves, how shall we sing the Lord’s song this Easter?
Well, I think with new songs of worship that are open to us precisely because of Easter! We no longer need a temple to worship in, for Jesus Himself is the new temple, the one in whom we can all meet with God. He has opened the way into the presence of God and invites each one of us to come in and worship God in spirit and in truth. Of course we will all find it very hard not to worship together, to be a pilgrim people journeying with one another through Holy Week, but that does not mean that we cannot draw near to God in our own homes. We can pray, read the Gospel accounts of Jesus final week, sit with him at the Last Supper, follow him to Gethsemane. We can sing the old familiar Easter hymns and worship in our hearts and lives, knowing as we do so that we are one in Spirit, if not in body.
Finally come Easter Day we can declare again that Jesus Christ is risen, he has conquered death, sin and fear. And we can join with countless men and women of faith across the whole world and with those who now worship on another shore….. a new song, a song of trust in Jesus Christ, the one who was and is and is to come, the Lamb upon the throne. To him be glory for ever!