One of the members of the church I serve texted me the other day. "I know the church is not the building," she began. "but I just stopped by there to pick something up, and went into the empty sanctuary. It made me cry. It feels like an empty shell."
Not being able to worship in our buildings - our sacred space - especially during the holiest time of the year for Christians, is terribly hard. We feel disconnected from our community, and in some ways from God, too.
We know that the church is more than a building, but the building is also more than just a place, more than just wood and stone, altar and pulpit. The sanctuary holds the prayers and songs, the joy and sorrow, of all of us, over years, even centuries. We can feel it and hear it, the presence of the saints who have gone before us. We even smell it in the wax, the incense, the polish of the place.
Zoom just doesn't cut it when it comes to being the Body of Christ.
But here we are, suddenly exiled from our churches, everyone scrambling to hold on to the parts of our communal worship that connect us to God and one another, everyone searching for ways to translate meaning from real-life into virtual. It is strange. It is hard. And it is, in some ways, exactly the story we proclaim.
Holy Week is our yearly walk through the way of the Cross - Jesus' last supper with his disciples, his arrest and trial, his crucifixion and death. We spend far more time this week remembering the confusion, anxiety, pain and sadness than we do the joy of Easter. Because we don't really understand the triumph of Resurrection until we understand that it came in the midst of terrible darkness.
This year, we understand.
This year, we can imagine the upper room, where Jesus' friends relaxed and ate together, blissfully unaware of what was to come. We can sympathize with the grief and fear of those same followers as the events of Jesus' last days unfolded. And we can insist on the baffling, breathless news that the tomb is empty. That love conquers even death.
And this year we will do all of this from behind our computer screens, or with our phones in hand. And the story will have no less power than it does when we tell it from the pews of our beloved buildings. It may even have more.
'The architecture always wins.'
That's what my seminary music professor - the incomparable Dr. David Hurd - used to try and teach us. What he meant is: you can't play the bagpipes in a tiny space (well you can, it just won't sound great!); or if you try to preach from the floor of a great cathedral, instead of the pulpit, no one will hear you (unless you are Bp. Curry). He meant that the space shapes our response, our worship of God. That it is part of it, actually. And we are invited to work with it, to use it to amplify our praise.
This year, the architecture has a screen. The space is virtual. The experience is individual - even though we are a crowd of billions of believers, it will be one login at a time. Holy Week won't be the same, it won't be like anything we have ever experienced before. And it will shape us.
It will remind us that our story - the Christian story - has not ended. It did not end with stone buildings any more than it ended with a stone in front of the tomb. We are still proclaiming the the astounding Good News that we learned in the first Holy Week - that Jesus will confound us, surprise us, challenge us, upend our lives - but he will never leave us alone.