Sitting on the desk at my office is a plaque upon which is inscribed a very simple phrase: “Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you and I together cannot handle”. I have had that plaque for longer than I can remember and many is the time I have glanced at it or prayed those words. They speak a simple yet profound truth.We have been thrust into an unfamiliar new reality, over a matter of days, which is challenging and uncertain. It touches every aspect of human activity, from our interactions with family, friends and neighbours all the way up to the relationship among nations on a global scale. While the threat of a global pandemic has caused seismic change around the globe, the one constant carrying us forward in every time and place is beautifully captured in the words of my office plaque. It reminds me of the assurance of God to Isaiah that we have indeed been engraved upon the palm of God’s hand or the words of St. Paul that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Followers of Jesus Christ gather to celebrate the presence of God in every aspect of life. We draw deeply in our worship from the well of living water that Jesus spoke of when he engaged in conversation with the woman of Samaria. The suspension of our ability to gather physically in worship, to rejoice with others in the praise of God, sharing in the Eucharist as an act of thanksgiving and spiritual nourishment for the journey ahead, is of particular challenge.
This past Monday, the bishops of the Province of Ontario met on-line. Part of our discussion focussed on the ways in which our clergy and lay leaders have been creatively and energetically working to hold and build Christian community as we move into the first weeks of the global pandemic response. You certainly pulled out all the stops! We have been deeply encouraged and heartened at how the Body of Christ, in the power of the Spirit, has raised its voice in worship. Indeed, the voice of prayer is never silent, nor dies the strain of praise away.
The bishops offer the following statement regarding our worship, with particular regard to the celebration of the Eucharist over the foreseeable future, as our Church buildings remain closed and we are unable to gather together for worship:
One of the realities for the Church living through this pandemic is our inability to physically gather as community for worship and mutual support. The Eucharistic Feast which we are used to celebrating week after week has been interrupted. On-line celebrations, prayers, bible studies, and devotions offered by parishes have been keeping us connected in a virtual way and we are grateful for these inspired links. This temporary absence from one another tests our very nature as a living body and reminds us of our deep longing to be together. We now find ourselves in a time of Eucharistic Fast rather than Feast. The Reverend Dr. Eileen Scully, Director of Faith, Worship and Ministry puts this time into context. (download document).
Therefore, the bishops of our province have agreed together that our virtual worship through Holy Week and the season of Easter, or until such time that we can gather in community together, will not include the liturgy of the Eucharist. Sacramental celebrations are the work of the whole People of God and require a gathering of people who can be physically present to one another. That is impossible for most of us at this time. The Great Three Days of Easter, and through the fifty days of the season, we will be fasting from the Eucharist but feasting on the Word. We believe that the Risen One, the Word, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is present and active with us as we hear and receive him in the word of the scriptures, in that word interpreted and proclaimed in preaching, and in the word inwardly digested, by faith, in each person.
I know that the disruption to our celebration of Holy Week and the Great Three Days will be a visible sign of the global challenge Christians have been thrown into along with the whole world. Yet, we have an opportunity to “feast upon the Word’ gathering in diocesan worship over Holy Week. I am proposing two opportunities for this to happen.
First, is on Maundy Thursday when we recall the sacrificial love of Christ encapsulated in the words of his new commandment to love one another, so visibly demonstrated in the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup at the Last Supper. Maundy Thursday is the traditional time when the Church gathers for the renewal of ordination vows and the blessing of Holy Oils. We have observed that rite at other dates in the past as our parishes have their own Maundy Thursday observances, but this Maundy Thursday, April 9th at 7pm, we are planning an on-line liturgy for the renewal of vows for the clergy and laity.
Second, will be Easter Sunday itself. Mark Hauser, our Diocesan Communications Officer, and I are looking at putting together a pre-recorded video, allowing us to offer a uniquely diocesan Easter Sunday service so that the whole diocese may celebrate together. We have been inspired in this by the many on-line worship opportunities that have been made available throughout the diocese.
I would ask clergy to let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org) if they could arrange to pre-record a section of the Easter liturgy, which could be woven together with other contributions to provide a complete Easter Sunday service to be shared with our diocese. Clergy may be able to call upon their lay worship leaders to take part in this initiative so that our Easter worship is truly an offering of the whole people of God. We will assign parts once we have our list of volunteers, which we need before Sunday, March 29. The hard deadline to receive the video clips is Wednesday April 8. Mark is willing to assist regarding the transfer of digital files to him for use in the video service. The video would be made available on our diocesan platforms at 11am on Easter Sunday.
Aside from Eucharistic celebrations, I know that clergy and their worship teams are working on ways to provide opportunities for the faithful to engage in worship over the whole arc of Holy Week. These two diocesan opportunities for on-line worship are not intended to supplant what others are planning, but I would ask that the time slots for Maundy Thursday at 7pm and Easter Sunday at 11am be reserved for those on-line diocesan gatherings.
We are also establishing a regular on-line opportunity for Question and Answer sessions for clergy, wardens and treasurers that they may have the option of accessing over our GotoMeeting platform. These will be available every Friday at 2pm. Please keep an eye on the diocesan website for any additions and new information which will be placed on the pandemic hub located on the main page. Also, a reminder that questions can be directed by email to email@example.com and we all have access to our telephones while working from home.
Please be assured of my continued prayers for you all over these days and thank you once more for your faithfulness, diligence and leadership in the Mission and Ministry of Jesus Christ who provides us with more than we can ask or imagine.
Yours in Christ’s Service,