Holy Week in the Diaspora

Posted: April 5, 2020 in Uncategorized
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I have a good friend who will be celebrating Passover with her family via Zoom this year. Everyone has the essential ingredients on hand in their own homes. A family member presides. And they will conclude as they always do with pronouncement of an ancient hope: “Next year we meet in Jerusalem.”

It is the Jews who are not in Jerusalem – which is most – who long most to be in Jerusalem. For centuries, worldwide Jewry has known diaspora – to be a people scattered by distance across the face of the world. The very existence of synagogues – created for the observant who live far from the temple in Jerusalem – reminds them not only that their faith is portable, but that they are indeed far from home.

My friend celebrates Passover every year in the Jewish diaspora. But this year is different. This year has an additional overlay, the Corona Diaspora. This year they share the liturgy of deliverance from Egypt, the symbolic foods, wine and and prayers of the Passover at even greater distance, joined together only by the digital images on their individual screens. This is Passover in the Double Diaspora.

For Christians, too, this time of social distancing and empty church buildings has created its own scattered community, a diaspora of a kind. Though we are not living in faraway lands, we are no longer physically present. We may wave a palm at home in front of our computer screen, but we won’t be in the midst of hundreds of waving palms, belting out All Glory, Laud and Honor. We are remotely gathering through the wonders of some teleconferencing video platform or by simply watching live streaming or prerecorded services, but all that pales by comparison, a weak shadow of the real thing. And we know it.

This year Christians will celebrate Holy Week in the Corona Diaspora.

The sooner we accept it, of course, the better. There’s not enough hand sanitizer or masks in the world to make Christian gatherings safe and responsible between Palm Sunday and Easter. There will be no palm waving, foot washing, Last Supper dramas, Communion, Good Friday processions, or Easter hallelujahs. Not this year, there won’t be.

Like Jews far from Jerusalem, we form micro communities distant from one another. Our homes become synagogues. And like those in diaspora have always done, we rely on those things which are eternal despite interruptions to collective gathering, time and space. We recite the wisdom that lights the path. We tell the stories that make sense of the world. And as we are able, we create or adapt big rituals into little ones: We pray together, share the bread and wine from the coffee table, and discuss some recent message that inspired us.

The one thing that diaspora does is to test the veracity, durability and relevance of a tradition. Unless that tradition is portable, unless it can continue to flourish without being surrounded by all the usual trappings of tradition and ritual, then it probably wasn’t true enough in the first place. And, as in the case of the Rabbis of the diaspora, it may even generate a whole new layer of wisdom teaching.

Of the many things that the Corona Diaspora may teach us, we may receive greater clarity as to what is essential and what is not. And if that is the only gift that this strange time yields, it will be enough.

Next year we meet … together.

 

 

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