Bringing Easter Home: A Reflection for the Laity
This week, Jews around the world celebrated Passover. Christians, too, mark the events of Jesus' last days, including his and the disciples' celebration of Passover.
And it is this rootedness in Jewish tradition and history that I ponder as we approach Easter this Sunday.
In 70 AD, the Second Temple was destroyed. The Jewish priests could not perform their duties and the required sacrifices could not be performed. The Holy of Holies was no more. This was a massive crisis in how to worship. How did the Jews respond?
Well, basically (and in part), they brought worship home and brought it into the Jewish communities wherever they lived all over the world.
Jews focused on learning the Torah and studying how to observe Torah as much as possible in changed circumstances. Rabbis became enormously important in guiding study. Prayer and worship entered deeply into the home as well as the synagogue. Charity and sacrificial good works became part of individual lives and community wholeness.
The holiest time is still the Sabbath, marked by study and sacrificial works and celebrated most beautifully at home with the family over bread and wine and prayers led by family members.
Early Christians had their troubles as well as the Jews, and often met in homes to pray and worship. The Holy of Holies lives in the person of Jesus, so is never destroyed, so the impact of the second Temple destruction played a different part in early Christianity. But persecutions and political nut-jobs often kept them home or in hiding, adapting worship and theology amid occasional chaos.
Now, today, we find ourselves in a temporary crisis regarding how best to worship this Easter.
We can worship at home, worship online, worship alone, and with others. Our theology is being stretched to include what is needed while maintaining faithfulness to our traditions.
So much of our Christian lives are in-the-flesh. We are adapting quickly to our recent restrictions, but adaptation is painful. Our churches are closed, and most of our altars are unapproachable. Many of our clergy advise a hiatus on Eucharist or Communion, which we can only celebrate when gathered as the Body of Christ.
But it's Easter. It is deeply uncomfortable to fast from the Body and Blood of Christ on Easter. How do mainline Christians respond?
Not all mainline denominations find this a real issue, but many do. Mine does. And for those, let me suggest we look to the Jews.
Can we bring the Eucharist home? Our clergy, at least in most of our denominations, advise us not to, and for excellent reasons. We must have someone ordained to celebrate the Eucharist, much like the Second Temple, required a priest to perform sacrifice.
But we can bring a *kind* of communion home. Jewish home worship is not the same as sacrifice at the second Temple. Christian home worship, even with bread and wine, is not the same without a clergy person. But it may be all we have. It may be enough. There is holiness to be found.
I have a great deal of experience with "Love Feasts" or "Agape Meals." In them, we carefully create a kind of communion without clergy - carefully so that we do not go astray theologically and liturgically and denominationally.
If you feel called to worship at home with the limitations of what you have and what you are, two things should be kept in mind. First, there should be at least two believers. Second, the bread and wine and other consumables that you - as a lay person - cannot consecrate, should still be treated with the utmost respect.
Why? Because our Triune God is not stingy. He has promised to be with you in a special way. He is not "a little bit" present with you because you are not ordained.
Our Triune God has promised to be with you during this time, with these people, and in the meal you share.
Each of these - time, loved ones, food, and drink - should be treated with the utmost respect, as if Jesus were indeed present in each of them.
Why? Because Jesus can be wherever he wishes and, since you are Christian, he is with you when two or more of you are gathered in his name.
Perhaps this year, we lay people are reminded to be careful and respectful of all of the times, loved ones, and meals we share as if Jesus were genuinely present. Being part of the "priesthood of all" is an awesome responsibility, one we may have been far too casual about in the past.
During the Passover, Jews celebrate with family and friends and food and wine and prayers to commemorate their release to freedom - freedom to worship God. During part of the celebration, people say, "Next year in Jerusalem."
For Christians, let me encourage you to celebrate Easter, welcome the resurrected Jesus into our lives again, over a meal, and with loved ones even if they are on a computer or telephone.
And let us say, "Next year in church." I hope to see you then.