This Sunday we commemorate the Lord Jesus going into the water of the Jordan River for baptism. I think many of us miss blessing ourselves with Holy Water when we enter and exit the church. The little stoups remain empty, to prevent spreading any germs. Understandable. But we miss it. [Spanish]
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord ends Epiphanytide. In the parishes here in Rocky Mount and Martinsville, we had the Epiphany custom of solemnly announcing the important dates of the liturgical year to come.
On the 17th day of February will fall Ash Wednesday… On the 4th day of April, you will celebrate Easter day… On the 16th day of May will be the Ascension… On the 23rd day of May, the feast of Pentecost. On the 6th day of June, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. On the 28th day of November, the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom is honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Last year, on Epiphany Sunday 2020, we had the solemn announcement of the dates. Little did we know what lay in store. This time last year, we had no idea what a wild ride the liturgical year of 2020 would become.
I mentioned early last year that I hope one day to climb the tallest mountain in the continental U.S., Mount Whitney. If you paid close attention to my little videos last May and June, you saw a poster of Mount Whitney that I had on my wall behind me. Good Lord willing, I will make the ascent this coming August.
Last February I traveled out to the Sierra Nevadas to size Mount Whitney up, so to speak–to get a feel for what I would need to do, to get to the top. While I was out in that area, I also visited the Grand Canyon.
As I gazed out over the Grand Canyon on February 20, 2020, a group of rafters 5,000 feet below me had just set out for a month-long trip through the bottom of the canyon, along the Colorado River. There’s no cellphone service down there, so those rafters had no contact with the world outside the canyon for a whole month. That was the idea—to get away, to get “off-grid.”
The rest of us spent that month learning about the virus that had started in Wuhan, China. We looked on in disbelief as the whole nation of Italy shut down. Then our own United States shut down. The rafters emerged from the Grand Canyon, and back into contact with the world, on the very day that the bishops here in the U.S. shut down public Masses until further notice, in the middle of last March. I think we can imagine how stunning it must have been for them. They left a normal world, and returned to… well… highly abnormal.
Anyway, for the second half of Lent last year, and for most of the Easter season, we only had Mass via facebook live. We had Palm Sunday and Holy Week via smart phone, with contactless drive-thru palm pickup. Then the parishes here partially re-opened on Ascension day. In the meantime, I had gotten removed as pastor and suspended from ministry.
When we start the year by doing the solemn announcement of the dates of the big feast days, I think it gives us a sense of steadiness, stability. We start the year by remembering that Christ’s Church will make Her way through the annual cycle again, respecting the rhythm of the seasons as we always do. Hopefully we will grow a little closer to God this year. Steady progress toward heaven. That’s how gardens grow. Maybe it seems boring on the surface. But ultimately, it’s very beautiful.
This past liturgical year involved just about everything except steadiness and stability. The disturbances in parish life have wounded us all. We should not underestimate how deeply they have wounded us. Trauma in your spiritual life is the worst kind of trauma, and takes the longest to heal. We need to go easy on ourselves.
And we need to try to hold onto whatever liturgical steadiness we can get our hands on. Marking our calendars for the big holy days of 2021—to do that, after the year we have had—it takes on a whole new significance, I think. The life of Jesus Christ’s grace will continue. We will carry on. This past year saw a painful number of business closures, and an even-more-painful number of human deaths. But not Christianity. 2020 did not kill our faith.
The trauma during the holy days of 2020 has made keeping the holy days in 2021 more urgent. And it will make keeping them more sweet. God remains with us. Jesus Christ, our Savior.