I have been working on Virtual Sunday School lessons and lists of ideas for Holy Week and Pascha, and on materials for my own parish as we gear up for what promises to be a very different celebration. Today, as I’m working, every time I get to Pascha, I start tearing up. For weeks I have quietly grieved the idea that my own family’s Pascha experience will be different, but today I am looking at all of the parish celebrations that we put together every year. Not just the services, but the community experiences, from folding the crosses to decorating the tomb to corralling little girls in white for a Holy Friday procession… the cooking and the feasting and the talking… The parish part. We just won’t have that this year. I already miss all those kids and the hustle and bustle and the pure joy of it all.
But as we all gear up for this new kind of Pascha, I think we’re missing something really important: there’s a good chance that this will be one of the most beautiful Paschas we ever experience.
God provides. He always does. Always.
If we can stop picturing the Holy Weeks that have come before, we might begin to start seeing in our minds’ eyes an image of ourselves, in the dusk of evening, lit only by candlelight, praying the services of Holy Week, whether in our service books or with a livestreamed image of an iconostasis and a lone priest before us. It looks peaceful and prayerful. We might begin to imagine a Pascha that brings our little household together in real celebration. We might imagine ourselves shedding a few tears of joy that Christ is risen — truly He is risen — even this year, as we shelter in place.
It has been said that only the present moment is real. We see the past through rose-colored glasses, and the future is simply what we imagine to be. I have been mulling over these interesting words from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters:
The humans live in time but [God] destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which [God] has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present — either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure. […] the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. […] Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.
The past is frozen and no longer flows, but the present is all lit up with eternal rays. Perhaps it is time to stop looking back to the Holy Weeks and Paschas we have seen before, and to look up at this moment in which we find ourselves today. In this present moment, time touches eternity; this moment is where we will encounter God. Love looks to the present. It is in the present moment that we take care of one another, that we love God and neighbor with all of our hearts.
If we can look squarely at this moment and not at the moments gone past, we can immerse ourselves in Holy Week and in Pascha, and God will reward the effort we make. This year, you will not be distracted by the hustle and bustle of the parish. You will be free to let Holy Week and Pascha unfold just between God and you. Instead of a public Holy Week, we will celebrate a private, intimate Holy Week. This is a gift. This moment is a tremendous gift, and we must not miss it by watching some other moment (whether past or future).
Another gift: we have all heard stories from older generations who endured Ottoman rule or communism, or stories from faraway places where it is not safe to gather for worship. We know that these things happen, and we see the amazing fruit of the people who cling to Christ through adversity. Perhaps the most profound Paschas have not always happened in church, but in homes and in concentration camps and gulags, when old bedsheets were transformed into vestments and tin cups became chalices. More difficult Paschas have been endured, and indeed, they have been beautiful beyond words. Other Christians have had it harder. Perhaps we should thank God that He is granting us a small window into their experience.
We must trust God. We must know that if we offer ourselves up to Him, He will receive us. Christ will rise on Pascha whether we sing His praises at home or in our church buildings. But we will have to attend to the present moment, or we’ll miss Him.
God knows your effort, He sees your heart, and He will grant you the Pascha you need.
Christ is risen!