There is a lot going on in the readings of Holy Week. Today is “Spy Wednesday” with Judas busy about his treachery and betrayal. As we move farther into the week, the story line seems to narrow from Jesus in the public square of Jerusalem to gathering with his disciples for a last supper, a Passover meal. As the story continues it narrows, it leaves accounts of individuals all moving into isolation. Peter falls into the slumber of a long night while Jesus prays. Jesus is arrested and Peter waits, far removed, in a courtyard. When asked if he is with Jesus, he withdraws through his denial, and then he is alone. The sum of all these individual stories leaves Jesus isolated alone. It is a brand of social distancing to another end, but social distancing nonetheless. Jesus is the contagion people wish to avoid. And so they separate themselves from being in contact with Him and, in the end, each other. The community of disciples is no longer together.
This Holy Week again finds us practicing social distancing in all aspects of life as we hope to separate ourselves from the contagion called coronavirus. Our stories have narrowed after a year of “safer at home.” It is a practical-sense isolation, but isolation nonetheless. We may have to relearn the easy movement in and out of the spheres of daily life: home, work, school, church, social gatherings, and all that comprise the normal rhythms of the day. But there are new rhythms of life. Where once we longed for time at home, we now discover we need to find new ways to be at home together. Where once we longed for some quiet in our lives, now some people have more “quiet” than they know what to do with. Daily there are new chapters and vignettes being written never before imagined. Each a part of a new puzzle being constructed.
I am reminded of the classic movie line: “There are eight million stories in this naked city; this has been one of them.” So ended the 1948 movie classic The Naked City. The title, taken from Arthur Fellig’s 1945 collection of semi-documentary photographs that collects isolated, tabloid-like photographs into an order to depict the larger story flow of New York City.
And in like fashion, the isolated short stories of our lives in this year of pandemic have been fashioned to an unseen order and being woven into the flow of Holy Week.
The story of Holy Week carries not just the stories of individuals like Peter, but also the story of crowds. In a way these stories frame the narrative even as the small vignettes play out. It begins with Palm Sunday, a multitude of people clamoring to see Jesus as he enters Jerusalem. He is hailed as Messiah. But such accolades are faint and wither away under the heat of scrutiny. By the end of the week, crowds are again assembled, only this time calling for blood, shouting out “Crucify him,” calling for the death of Jesus. As the disciples flee, the crowds draw near.
It is an irony of our times that we might well fall into the great undefined middle. We are a crowd that can not be a crowd, that longs to draw near but is rightly restrained by concern, caution and fear. These days of social distancing makes clear our longing for the social connections that happen well within 6 feet of one another. These days simply reveal what Scripture has said from the beginning: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Gen 2:18) The stories of Scripture and lived faith remind us that we find our identity, meaning, and purpose less through individual accomplishment and far more in and through our relationships with others. Lives always meant to be woven into a complex of Christian community life.
We see that in the parishes that strive to maintain connections within and among parishioners using technology and in old-school “call trees,” reaching out to folks to check-in, hang-out, and see what is needed. That is good, still we long for the day when we can actually see each other fully gathered at church, hear our voices raised together in praise and thanksgiving, and gather together as the Body of Christ in our familiar places.
We will survive and come together. The faithful and fickle, courageous and cowardly, kind and cruel, saint and sinner, pauper and prince – all people for whom Jesus came. He came for us all. He came that each of our stories are woven together, woven together into His story.
It is one of the tenets of the Catholic faith – about to be poorly worded – that we are never saved alone. There is no personal savior, no personal Lord (although we understand the sentiment and wouldn’t argue the point) – there is one Savior. The one who came to save us all as the one crowd, the one community, the one Body of Christ. We are saved, in faith, by joining the community that God sent his only Son to create and send into the “naked” cities. We intuitively sense that call in these days when we long to come together as community. We are “wired” to come together. It is who we are. Who we are called to be.