Thursday, 9 April 2020

The Non-stripping of the Altars

In those churches in the UK where they strip altars on Maundy Thursday, they mostly won't this year.

The Lenten array or purple altar cloths will stay in place.

That heart-breaking reading for Maundy Thursday won't be read, in near darkness, as the service comes to an end after feet haven't been washed and the Lord's Supper hasn't been shared - or, at least, not widely. Not physically. Not all together in one place.

The host won't be displayed among a dozen candles for the Watch to adore.

The Mass of the Presanctified won't happen tomorrow in church buildings.

Many aumbry lights have burnt out, untended. The electric ones are probably still going.

At the deep heart of our faith is an empty space, when the living God incarnate on earth was put to death. The Light to the Gentiles was snuffed out. God's Son wondered where the Father had gone. And the disciples hid because of an enemy they know and wondered what came next.

We also draw into closed rooms, for fear of an enemy we don't really yet understand. An enemy that does not even know it is an enemy-  it's just a chain of chemicals, doing what chains like that have done for billions of years. We do this for ourselves, but also for those we don't even know. There's no shame in not "taking it on the chin". No bravery in taking risks with others' lives. No kudos in defying an unknowing foe.

In the middle of these times, this extended Lent, the sun will still rise on Easter Sunday. And we remember a small group of women who braved the Romans, went out into the garden, and saw an empty space, where a body should be in a tomb.

Take the empty time, fill it with prayer. The buildings are waiting - stuck in Lent. But the Church will still know it's Easter. Christ will be crucified, Christ will be risen. And Christ.... well, far the other side of all this - long after we're gone back into church and swapped purple for white and gold and foreboding for Alleluias - Christ will come again.

Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.
It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.

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