Holy Week began April 5 in a most unique and unusual way.
With countries the world over under lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Christian denominations brought the message of Palm Sunday to their congregations through the internet and television.
In England, Palm Sunday service was not held at Westminster Cathedral. Instead, the Bishop of Manchester broadcast a service from his home that was live-streamed on the Church of England Facebook page and Archbishop Justin Welby streamed his Palm Sunday message on Twitter.
Even before Holy Week began, as the spread of the novel coronavirus accelerated throughout the world, on March 19, His All-Holiness Bartholomew I, the 270th and current Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch implored Orthodox Christians “to respond faithfully and patiently to all the difficult but necessary measures proposed by our health authorities and nations.”
On March 27, Pope Francis delivered a poignant Urbi et Orbi (To the City [Rome] and the World) address in the rain at dusk in an empty St. Peter’s Square, where deaths in Italy had just surpassed 9,000 and now total more than 15,000.
In St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis celebrated Palm Sunday with the participation of only a few select clergy. He offered encouragement to those watching online: “Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: ‘Courage, open your heart to my love. You will feel the consolation of God who sustains you’.”
Seeking a way to celebrate the holiday, many turned to Zoom, YouTube and television. Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church virtual Palm Sunday service is available online.
Pastor Mark Grimes of the Craney Creek Cowboy Church of Grangeville, Texas, was going to try to bring people into the building and have everyone sit 6 feet apart. Instead, they marked off the pastures around the church to indicate spaces for vehicles to park and parishioners were told not to mingle. Many sat in their cars, in the open hatch in the back of their SUVs, or the bed of their pickups, where they could listen and see and wave at other members of the congregation while they took part in the “drive-in” service.
Union Church of La Harpe, Illinois, was another church that organized a drive-in service and broadcast it on YouTube.
With no immediate end of the pandemic in sight, churches around the world will be providing virtual Easter Sunday services to protect their congregations next Sunday.
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