Saturday Evening, April 4, 2020
My Friends in Christ,     I am writing to you on Saturday evening…the night before Palm Sunday. Tomorrow begins the most holy week of our liturgical year…and we will not be able to be together…and we will not be able to be in our magnificent worship space. Back on Christmas Day, after the congregation from the 10:00 am service had all departed…I went into the office and printed out the service leaflets I had created for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, The Great Vigil of Easter, and that queen of feasts…Easter Sunday: The Day of Resurrection. Who could have guessed that three months later the world would be totally upside down and completely kerflooey! 
    Holy Week services are pretty well planned…all the food needed for the Palm Sunday breakfast, the Maundy Thursday Agape’, and the grand reception after The Great Vigil of Easter, celebrated next Saturday night, were purchased before the pandemic was even possibility…it is all stored in the church freezer and ready to go…even the champagne for the reception has been purchased. Fortunately, it all has a very long expiration date and it will be used…because when the pandemic subsides, we at St. John’s will gather again to give thanks to God…and we will gather to celebrate the core theme of our faith: that even in death, there is resurrection and new life! Even if it takes until September to do it, we will have Holy Week at St. John’s to once again to be able to shout out loudly to the world, “Alleluia. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!” 
   But until then, we have some practical matters to discuss. I have visited several church’s as they offer Sunday worship online…some from their deserted worship spaces and some from the clergy’s living room. I have mostly found the experience to highly unsatisfying…especially from the churches I once worshipped at and know to be very sound liturgically. The reality is…the Eucharist is first and foremost a communal meal in which we celebrate the reality of God with us. Watching somebody ‘consecrate’ bread and wine online when there is neither community nor meal present just seems quite ungratifying to me. But by now you have come to know that I am somewhat opinionated about such things!
   So what I have decided to do for Holy Week myself is this:    On Palm Sunday/The Sunday of the Passion – I intend to join with Episcopalians from all over the country in worshipping with those gathered at The National Cathedral in Washington for their service. They have the resources both in personnel and in finances to pull it off as best anyone can. I hope that many of you will join me…even from our separate homes.
    On Maundy Thursday (evening) and Good Friday – I intend to attempt to join with The Church of St. Mary the Virgin…a parish I trained at and once served, in New York City. Liturgy at St. Mary’s has changed a lot since my days there, but in recent years they have really done an excellent job of bringing out the richness of those two services. St. Mary’s does not, however, have the resources in either personnel or money that the National Cathedral does…so I am not sure how it will be. I do know that the Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, who was scheduled to be at St. Mary’s on Maundy Thursday is scheduled to preach despite not being able to be there in person. He has already recorded that sermon and I hear it finds the perfect tone for our current situation. And Good Friday has always been deeply meaningful for me the way they currently do that solemn liturgy. Please join me in New York (online at least) for these two services.
    For The Great Vigil of Easter, some parishes in our own diocese are working together online to present a truly ‘diocesan’ service where each part of the liturgy will take place in various places around the diocese and feature people from those parishes. I am not convinced but hope to be pleasantly surprised by the efforts of many of my clergy colleagues. Again, I hope you will join me.
    And then on Easter Day: The Day of Resurrection I intend to jump back on Amtrak (at least mentally) and travel to Washington DC, our nation’s capital, to the National Cathedral once again to join Episcopalians form all over the nation as we come together to celebrate Easter. I have a sermon for Easter Day that I am likely to mail to you later in the week. I have debated waiting until we can once again gather, but I think the message may be important for our lives as they are right now. We’ll see!
    And then late on Easter afternoon…just as we move into evening, I will sit by myself and read Paschal Evening Prayer. I hope you will join me…I will send that service to you late next week…and you will know why I think that service to be of such great importance as we wrap up the Holy Triduum, or Three Great Days.
    None of this is what I really want for us this Holy Week…but I think it is the best we can do under the circumstances. Through this trying time, we have been called to a Lent, Holy Week and Easter that few of us could have imagined. Yet, in truth, in walking through this “valley of the shadow of death,” we are being drawn deeply into the true meaning of Holy Week and Easter. But I do long for life to return to normal…even a ‘new normal’…so we can once again gather as a community of faith and worship God together under that wonderful ‘praying hands’ roof at SJP.
Until then, please stay home…stay safe…stay healthy.  And know that God loves us…each and every one.       john +                     The Rev. John H. Conners  Interim Rector                 St. John’s Episcopal Church