Now that we’re in the midst of a complex of Judeo-Christian holidays (Passover, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, as well as other spring rites), I’ve been thinking of obligations. I’ve had people introduce themselves to me as “Chri-easters.” This isn’t a new form of religion, but rather a way of indicating that they attend services on Christmas and Easter only. For others of us it’s never been so easy. I was raised with the stern belief that Sundays in church were a matter of absolute obligation. Serious illness was the only reason to miss. If you were traveling (which was rare for us, being not terribly affluent), you found a local church to attend. Never mind that you’ll look like strangers and won’t know how it’s done (unless you’re in one of the “liturgical” denominations, where variations are minimal). Every Sunday was an obligation.
The minister at our church has been offering virtual holy week services. The idea haunts me. You see, back in Nashotah House days the sternness of days of obligation was palpable. Yes, you had to attend chapel twice daily, but there were still days of obligation. At this time of year we’d have had long rehearsals already for “the Great Three Days.” Forsaking family and fellowship, we’d be forced to be together for long hours while the dreary events of two millennia ago were replayed. Of course they were reinterpreted as well. Made more Episcopalian—even a crucifixion should be done properly and in good order. Knowing they had to get to their own churches on Sunday, students were kept up until about two a.m. for the Great Vigil and First Mass of Easter. Obligation, not love, drove all this.
Coronavirus has us separated, of course. Some of us are daily seeking coping techniques to help us get through a crisis that throws off schedules and sets new priorities. To have someone suggest in the midst of all this that we could “come to church” (virtually) transports me to those fearful days of obligation. As a teen I sought them out. I’d ask to be driven to a different town on Good Friday so that I could spend it in church, hoping to be in connection with the tragic events. I’d curse the sunshine when I stepped back out after three p.m., if it was shining. This was supposed to be a dark and dreary day. Nature, however, had its own ideas. Spring was in full swing. It was time to be thinking about life, not death.