Epidemiological Eschatological Sacramentology
Please excuse the title of this post. I couldn't think of a better one. A conference call with our Bishop earlier got me thinking about three subjects all at once. First, the question of epidemiology. How are people to conduct themselves in a time of disease and global pandemic? How can we care for our neighbors and care for ourselves, doing both at the same time? How can we care for the sick, while not endangering anyone else? Then, we come to the eschatological question. For Christians, we are to live life in constant expectation of the end, and not just the end of this world, but our end - the end for which we were ultimately made: to, like Jesus, behold the blessed vision of God in the heavenly realm. In times of global chaos and disaster, many people use the term "apocalyptic." Without knowing it, they're pointing to the fact that there are hidden realities at play, realities like God, angels, judgment, and what Paul calls "creation's eager groans." Lastly, the sacramental questions: not only how Baptism and the Eucharist are to be administered safely, but how the Church can be duly constituted in things like live-streams, and how we can proclaim Christian hope, life, and the means of grace in the midst of death. The priests I talk to are stretched between two seemingly opposed goods: one, the good of worshipping God and receiving His grace, and the other, the good of loving our neighbor.
You might see how these three go together. How does the Christian, surrounded by the reality and pall of death, look for Jesus in the midst of it, when removed from the ordinary means of grace? In a parish full of people who grew up in the Evangelical tradition, it is easy to grow used to the joy of weekly communion. It is also easy to forget: God is bigger than sacraments. There will come a day when sacraments cease, when God will be "all in all." (1 Cor. 15:28) We forget that hope, for the Christian, is worked by Christ operating in us. As Paul puts it in Colossians, hope is the rich mystery proclaimed by the Church: "Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:27) We forget that the God we serve, though promising to be with us and give us grace through outward signs, is nevertheless not bound to only work through these means.
We serve a God who comes to us in the midst of our distress, suffering, exile, and alienation, who came to our first parents when they were naked and afraid. In Holy Week, we remember Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, coming into the depths of human sin and death, and gaining victory. There will come a day when we will meet again, when normalcy will return. But, let us make the most of this moment to remember the truth at the very center of our faith: the God we serve is greater than disease, and sin, and death, and through the mysteries of redemption, has gained the victory!
It is in that vein, that I want to say as we go through Holy Week that we have attempted to make it a rich week in the midst of this present strangeness. I not only ask for your patience, but also ask you to use this week as an opportunity to renew your devotion to the Risen Lord who is very much with you, all while not forgetting to care for those around you who are most vulnerable to this disease. For the foreseeable future, we will be staying the course. The Sunday Eucharist will be live-streamed, as will Bible studies and catechesis sessions for children and adults. As a priest, I will not ever be in the position of denying the Sacraments to those who ask for them. Baptisms and home communions will continue. Confessions will be heard. We will even have a wedding! (Best wishes to Hannah Norman and Father Krause!) I simply desire to remind you that God is drawing very near to you during this time, and I pray that during this Holy Week, He will make His presence very known to you and your families. May we await the Lord's coming with the joy that comes from already being filled with His presence in the midst of a world that is slowly fading.
Father Lee Nelson, SSC