Warm greetings in the Lord.
A short time before this video message was filmed, our Premier announced that further restrictions are being imposed on Regina and surrounding area because of the recent spike in cases of a Covid variant. Regina residents may not expand their household bubble, and all indoor gatherings are restricted to immediate household members only. Restaurants and licensed establishments must close for in-person dining. Many event venues and non-essential indoor locations are temporarily closed. Travel is not recommended in or out of the Regina area unless absolutely necessary. If you live in Regina, now is not the time to go to visit family who live outside of the city. The press release noted that if we undergo these restrictions for 2 to 4 weeks, it could turn the situation around quickly.
Places of worship for Regina and area, however, remain at the current capacity level, which is capped at 30 persons. I join many in expressing profound gratitude that at a time of significant restrictions, places of worship in Regina and area have not been further restricted. It is an acknowledgment that we offer something that is essential to the well-being of many in our society. Faith leaders argued strongly that worship services, with very rare exceptions, have not been places where the virus has spread, and that we have been diligent in taking all the precautionary steps asked of us. With the gift that we have not been shut down – as many other public places have been – comes the responsibility and obligation to be exceedingly careful over the coming days.
It is an extraordinary situation we find ourselves in as a society. Earlier today I had the opportunity to have a conversation with an infectious disease physician, who wanted to speak to me about the current medical crisis in Regina. The large and exponentially rising number of cases of the Covid variant in the city has caused incredible stress on the health system here. The variant spreads more quickly, is more dangerous, than the original strain, and the risk of the situation getting further out of hand is real, potentially resulting in many more cases, many more deaths. At the same time, efforts to provide a vaccine have accelerated in the area, and access to a vaccine is proceeding much more quickly than anticipated. In this race between the virus variant and the vaccine, it is clearly time for decisive action.
All of this is playing out for us, as Christian community, at the holiest time of the year. It feels brutal that we are at a critical juncture in dealing with this pandemic precisely in Holy Week, for the second year in a row. But suffering and brutal experience are right at home in Holy Week. We are about to celebrate Palm Sunday, a liturgy which begins with the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem; but that joy soon dissipates and turns into the procession to calvary, where the Lord is taunted, beaten, crowned with thorns, and crucified. Palm Sunday takes us from promise to pain, as the one who came to bring life is put to death. The deeper narrative, of course, is of a love which gives of itself fully, and this death will not have the last word.
I was recently reminded of a theological reflection which noted, there are some who say, ‘things are always getting worse in the world’ – as the saying goes, ‘we are going to hell in a handbasket’ – and others note that ‘things are always getting better,’ though it is a bumpy road. It is easy enough for both schools of thought to find ample evidence to back their arguments. A deeper truth is that these two trajectories are not opposed, that things can indeed get better and worse at the same time. And they do. Indeed they are.
In the Palm Sunday liturgy, we hear of an incredible darkness, as the Word through whom all things came to being was silenced, put to death, buried in a tomb. But as St. Paul notes, where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. An incredible grace is also in evidence, a love which knows no bounds. Love and death are caught in a great showdown. Palm Sunday leaves us there.
Our pandemic also has us in a showdown, as the rampant spread of a Covid variant is confronted by our best communal efforts to protect the vulnerable and to defeat a virus that can bring death.
Friends, in this drama unfolding in our midst, just as in the drama that we are drawn into in the Palm Sunday liturgy and in Holy Week, we are not passive bystanders. We’re all called to participate in this drama, in this struggle between life and death. Let me suggest three ways in which we can do so.
Firstly, we can take all the precautions that we are asked to take. While parishes have not been vectors of the virus spreading, we need to be especially vigilant now. We do well to take seriously the travel advisory issued for Regina and area communities. Outside of Regina, in other parts of the Archdiocese, we need to be very cautious as well, as we enter into Holy Week with an easing of restrictions; it’s not a time to ease up on our attentiveness to detail.
Secondly, we can enter deeply into the celebrations of the coming days, whether in person or virtually. These celebrations take us to the heart of our faith. In accompanying the Lord to the cross and ultimately to the resurrection, we can find a wellspring of hope and joy that is very deep, because it is born out of the worst that human life can bring, and proclaims that life and love have the last word.
Finally, tomorrow, Thursday, we celebrate the great Feast of the Annunciation, centred upon Mary’s faith-filled response to the Angel Gabriel: “let it be done unto me according to thy word.” Mary’s yes opens the door to God’s desire to come and dwell in our midst. Let us ponder and emulate Mary’s openness to the will of God and her embrace of the mystery of God’s great desire to come into our midst. Let us accept the invitation and do our part in God’s great dream of transforming and redeeming the world from within, be walking with us, dying and rising for us.
Let’s close with a prayer that brings together some of the strands in this meandering meditation:
Lord Jesus, you came among us to bring life. In your suffering and death, you revealed a boundless love. In your resurrection you plant the seeds of a hope within us which can withstand darkness and pain. Be with us now in this time of pandemic. Protect us, watch over all our medical professionals, and all who are doing all they can to accompany those who are suffering and to prevent the further spread of the virus. Give us courage as we face our own struggles, frustrations and darkness at this time. May we always know your Risen presence. Fill us with your Holy Spirit. Help us to offer our fiat, to say to you with our whole hearts and our whole lives, “let it be done unto me according to thy will.” Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
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