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  • Writer's pictureRyan Panzer

Being the church in a social distancing version of Holy Week

Let's allow ourselves plenty of space to lament the disruption of normalcy. Let's grant ourselves permission to grieve the experiences we have lost, the time with friends and family we'll never get back, the memories we had hoped to form that will now exist only as imagination.

Most importantly, let's allow ourselves to step outside the walls of our home, to hold up in thought and prayer those suffering from this pandemic, and especially those risking their lives to provide healthcare and treatment. Let's permit ourselves to dwell within this time of sorrow and sadness, for the times are unprecedented, and the valley appears deep indeed.

But let's not allow ourselves to be misguided by the idea that virtual connection is not "real" connection, or the idea that virtual church is not "real" church.

Though we may call this a period of "social distancing," in reality it is a time of "physical distancing." With YouTube, Zoom, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and countless other tools, we must remain grateful for the opportunity to remain socially connected, albeit in a different way. And we must remember that though we are physically apart, the spirit draws us together all the days of this pandemic.

This Palm Sunday marks the start of a Holy Week different from all other Holy Weeks the church has ever or likely will ever experience.

As we gather in front of phone screens and televisions, with YouTube or Facebook Live, we'll still be connected in a very real way. Though we may wave homemade palms of paper, or no palms at all, the shouts of "Hosanna" will be as real as ever.

Though we may not gather to wash feet or celebrate the Lord' s Supper on Maundy Thursday, Christ's service towards us, and our service towards one another, continue uninterrupted.

Though we may not gather in a church on Good Friday at Noon, our presence at the foot of the cross will be as true as always.

And even though we may not smell the lilies or wear our Sunday best, the tomb will be empty on Easter morning, just as it always will be. In these times where the reality of death is rampant, the promises of Christ's resurrection remain stronger. Though the stone that closes the tomb is heavier than it has ever been, God's commitment to rolling it away is greater still.

Virtual community is indeed real community. Church from home is indeed real church. The cross and the empty tomb are indeed as real as ever. Whether we go to church, lead a church, or have no interest in church, let us pause as we begin this Holy Week journey to realize the many surprising ways that the Spirit continues to draw us together. Let us recognize the many often subtle ways that God is turning the world around for the better. And let us remember that God will empty the tomb, wipe away our tears, and enfold us in the everlasting promises of the Easter season - this week, and all the days of our lives.

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