We are well into our “stay at home” order that Maine’s Governor put into place April 2nd. At Old South, we have been holding worship services, meetings and other gatherings online. This new format isn’t perfect, but it has offered an opportunity to try some new things, like daily Holy Week “gatherings” (up until today—more on that in a bit). We’ve also been able to welcome new people, from near and far, to our online worship.
Now, we are at Good Friday, a day on the liturgical calendar that holds special meaning for me, as we usually sing one of my most favorite hymns, O Sacred Head, Now Wounded. Today, I’m not only stuck at home, but forced to postpone our online noon service until tomorrow, and even then may have to cancel it.
Last night, it snowed. And snowed. Wet, heavy, large flakes of snow. And then the wind picked up. By midnight, the electricity had gone out. I could tell when the noise of the generator woke me up. In the morning, I discovered that we had also lost internet access. Who knows when we’ll get the power and internet back. (Thankfully, my phone’s hotspot setting allows me to check email and post to this blog.)
Any hope I might have had to take my all-wheel drive vehicle to try to get to the church’s parish house to do today’s service from there (where there is power and internet) vanished when my husband: a. went off the road when he tried to leave (we live at the end of a long, dirt private road), and, b. when he then discovered that a large tree had fallen across the road (and the earliest it can be removed is tomorrow).
Now, not only am I under a “stay at home” order, but I’m really stuck at home. And, I can’t do anything that will allow me to connect to what always feels especially holy about Good Friday. It’s not just about one of my favorite hymns, or the painful, difficult story. There’s also something significant about spending time in a church sanctuary for part of this day. When I knew that I couldn’t be in Old South’s sanctuary for today’s service, I heaved a heavy sigh, but then thought, well, at least I wouldn’t need to be without my community, even as small as it usually is for a Good Friday service.
It’s not that at home devotionals are without some sense of holiness, but it’s not nearly the same. Without church, in terms of building or people, today feels rather barren and even more distant than social distancing.
Years ago, when I was a divinity school student, I attended the annual Good Friday three-hour service at Memorial Church in Harvard Yard, Noon – 3:00. The first time I contemplated going to that service, I remember worrying about being able to sit in a church pew for so long. And, then discovered that I wasn’t really ready to leave when the service was over. While we don’t have such a long service at Old South, I still remember that feeling of being in that sanctuary and not quite ready to leave and to return to normal life outside. That memory comes back each year during the Good Friday service.
While I certainly have that feeling of being away from the life “outside,” stuck inside as I am, there is a definite disconnect in the experience. I’d rather not feel like the disciples who huddled up in fear behind a locked door, thinking that they might be next.
This year is a whole new experience of Good Friday, and I’m not sure if I’ll look back on this experience and come to realize that maybe it was, if not a good experience, at least worthwhile. I’ll hope, at least, that next year, when this current circumstance is a distant memory (for surely it will be by then?), that I won’t take anything for granted.
What language shall I borrow, to thank Thee dearest friend, For this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end? O make me thine forever, and should I fainting be, O let me never, never, outlive my love to Thee. (O Sacred Head, verse 3)