It’s easy for the world to feel stagnant as so many of us “shelter in place.” Only if we venture outside, in our makeshift masks, do we notice that our favorite magnolia trees have already bloomed and begun to shed their white and pink petals. We wonder what became of the fifth cat of a family of five around the corner; we haven’t seen them all together in a long time. We observe that traffic is light, and sidewalks are quiet with neighbors who don’t want to stop and chat. And when we return to our homes, we notice the small, curled green shoot on the pothos plant, unfolding over a series of days. Even at home, the world spins on, continuous in its change.
Still, stillness is the best for which many of us can hope. We hope that a deadly virus is not multiplying by the millions in our bodies or those of our loved ones; for those of us who love someone who is already sick, or someone working through pain and exhaustion on their behalf, we hope for a slowdown and a stop. We hope for an end to the sirens careering through the air night and day. We hope for the slope of the graph to stop its precipitous rise.
With Easter coming so late this year, Holy Thursday falls well after the return to Daylight Savings Time, and so the service tonight began in sunlight, with birdsong outside the door that opens onto the small courtyard where the infamous palm-burnings have transpired. You could hear them singing as Sean played the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite in D Minor. His playing is emotive and intimate—I don’t think I’ll ever forget hearing him playing Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im spiegel last year—and the trilling birds over it began Holy Thursday with a layer of irony: the innocence of the smaller creatures of God not unlike that of the disciples who can’t begin to imagine what’s about to happen next as they eat the Passover meal with Jesus, who certainly can. John, leaning on Jesus’s bosom; Peter, ruining the moment—they know something is off, but they can’t predict just how bad things will get.
Today is Palm Sunday, which we observed in the traditional manner of singing along with Matt’s rendition of David Bowie’s “Starman” and liberally dousing ourselves and each other with biodegradable glitter. Donna picked up a handful of it and cried “Woo!” on her way to deliver the Ancient Testimony, the Palm Sunday narrative according to Luke; Valerie, before gracing us with the good news according to James Baldwin, more cautiously, dipped her palm in the sparkly bowl and commented, “Praise be to God.” And, perhaps to avoid any further trouble with NYU and the NYPD following a minor security incident resulting from this year’s burning of the palms on Ash Wednesday, we skipped the palms entirely and brought home only what shimmering bits remained stuck to our clothes (and hair, and bags, and coffee cups, and…). But it’s Judson. We’ll surely find new trouble before long.
We invoked God as “You who are beyond the capacity of any one name,” to quote both Donna and Micah, in yesterday’s service, and it’s gotten me thinking about ideological purity in a lot of ways. Those of us who pride ourselves on not being one of those Christians, e.g. fundamentalists, like to think that we don’t give purity tests, but I suspect that we do. Just ask yourself or one of your friends about which candidate looks to be strongest for 2020 and examine the criteria you’ve (perhaps unwittingly) set for “strongest,” and see which boxes you’d feel good about unchecking. (Maybe none of them! Maybe you are the strongest of us all. Maybe you should be running for President. [Wink.])
When Lyla, one of our Community Ministers, read Psalm 104 as our Ancient Testimony this morning, I was really drawn to verses 19-20:
You have made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night;
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
If we experienced the Earth as an expression of God’s many aspects, would we be more likely to treat it differently? If we looked at the moon and saw an opportunity for us to pause, to rest, to finish our work and get in touch with spirit and each other, would we welcome the darkness instead of (as I so often do) treating it as the gateway to another day for which we’re just not ready?
And if we looked at the composting and recycling bins as opportunities for reflection on how we manage our (ever-growing) footprints on creation, would we be more mindful of how we sort our trash?
“Lent is the perfect season for losing one’s mind,” Micah observed this morning, and, I mean, yes. Lent invites us into so many paradoxes, which I think has to be a theme of this season in a way I’m not sure I ever really noticed before. This week, it’s the paradoxes of being both trapped and free, of being both holy and reasonably low-key about it, paradoxes designed to drive us crazy—to borrow a phrase from Carole King, to take our souls if we let them—if we don’t balance ourselves in the tension of them like the fulcrum of a seesaw.