by the Revd Canon Giles Goddard, Vicar of St John’s Waterloo and Member of the Co-Ordinating Group for the “Living in Love and Faith” Project
I’ve spent the morning trying to work out how we can have our Palm Sunday Eucharist online. Yesterday I used my daily exercise to take a video of the walk from St Andrew’s, Short Street to St John’s, Waterloo – the route we take for our Palm Sunday procession. The roads were nearly empty and the quiet was palpable.
We will show the video in our service on Zoom on Sunday, as our Director of Music, in Walthamstow, plays ‘Ride on, ride on in majesty,’ on the piano in his living room. People across the world – from South Africa, Singapore, the USA, Scotland, Wales and England – will join us as we begin this strangest of Holy Weeks with a virtual procession along empty streets.
The psalms set for Morning Prayer this week have been uncanny in their precision. For example, Psalm 55, vv 5- 7:
My heart is disquieted within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and a horrible dread has overwhelmed me.
And I said ‘O that I had wings like a dove, for then would I fly away and be at rest.
For me, these past two weeks have been a strange combination of adrenaline and heartache. We have all had to adapt, fast, to a completely new situation, and there’s been a refreshing communal engagement as we have tried to share what works and what helps congregations to stay in touch and to care for one another.
At the same time I have been listening to and supporting members of my congregation who are working in intensive care at St Thomas’ or who have close family members with COVID-19. And underlying all that has been the knowledge that Holy Week is fast approaching, and we are about to walk together into the darkness of the crucifixion story after the adrenaline of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. As we remember the Passover on Maundy Thursday, perhaps we will also remember that first Passover – the plagues visited on the people of Egypt – the death of the firstborn sons and the liberation of the Hebrews.
Reams have already been written about this new situation. I think we are all reflecting on the challenges and the opportunities which we face. For me, what’s been overwhelmingly clear is the absolute lack of favouritism which the virus is demonstrating. We are all at risk, whether we are a senior member of Government, an exhausted doctor, a thirteen year old boy in Brixton or refugees struggling to survive in a camp in Uganda. The virus shows no partiality. Those who are most affected are often those who are, for whatever reason, the weaker in society, perhaps because of age, or illness, or poverty – but this darkness which we face is the shared darkness of human vulnerability and death.
On the other hand there is this extraordinary and shared upsurge in the recognition of our common humanity. In spite of some tales of hoarding and of bad behaviour, and in spite of the awfulness of some of the pronouncements from some of our world’s politicians, the overwhelming response across the world seems to have been one of caring, sharing and supporting – it seems, across all the artificial boundaries which are created by societies. A breaking down of exclusion as we find ourselves physically distanced.
I have a stronger and more direct sense now of being engaged in the sharing of the love of God than I think I have ever had – despite this weird physical separation. Crucifixion and resurrection feel very close and profoundly connected. Perhaps within the church as much as outside it, we are trying to connect to one another in love and mutual support. It’s very moving, and very unexpected – as George Monbiot wrote last week in The Guardian about the impact of the virus, the horror films got it wrong.
So, for me, the big question is – how long will this love last, and what will we be able to take forward when we are the other side of this crisis? What can the church learn from all this, and how will we be changed? Will we find new ways to reach out to those who are most vulnerable, and break down the barriers which divide us? Where will we find the resurrection, when, by God’s grace, the deaths are over?
My prayers are with everyone as we learn anew how to experience Holy Week in a time of pestilence.