The idea came to me when I was gathering up the stubs of taper candles that we used for our Easter Vigil. I didn’t want to throw them away, even though they were just one-inch nubs of wax, not good for much any more. I set them aside with the donkey ears we ordered for the dog (for Palm Sunday, naturally), and the printed-at-home bulletin we used for online church the week before.
These items had been scattered around the dining room, in the living room, in a corner of the kitchen. I could have pitched them, carrying them to the curb with the rest of our trash and recycling twice a week. These items somehow felt more holy, though, than the recycled “distance learning” worksheets and the growing pile of bottles emptied of sparkling water. These items were the tangible scraps left from our Holy Week: Pandemic Quarantine Version.
My mom mentioned that maybe I could incorporate a journal into the kids’ distance learning curriculum. “Yes!” I thought to myself, as I imagined their sweet third- and sixth-grade handwriting spelling out the words that mark their memories of this strange time, tucking these pages away for their grandchildren to read someday in the distant future. “No!” I also screamed to myself, when I thought about asking the kids to do One More Thing, when distance learning had somehow been added to my (working full-time, cooking full-time, grocery-procurement) plate. The Do-More-Things dynamic between my pre-teens and me was already kind of exhausting, to be honest. Asking them to reflect and write about another thing didn’t feel like something I wanted to add to my Living Our Best Pandemic Life Now List. Maybe we’ll do a video journal instead?
And so, with thoughts of making memories in my mind, I tucked the stubby candle ends, the printed liturgy guide, and the donkey ears into an over-sized plastic bag. These are the symbols of our faith life at home. We attend a beautiful church in Houston. It’s modeled after a church in Italy, and there are particular architectural details that stand out to anyone who enters the space. We have rich incense and beautiful choral music, with a fancy pipe organ that requires more maintenance than most luxury vehicles. People miss the church building, and they miss gathering there.
The name of the church is Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, which is kind of an odd name for an Episcopal church. The name comes from a family name, dedicated by a woman whose brother died in the Gulf of Mexico while rescuing her from drowning. The word “palmer” also means the name of a pilgrim, one who returned from the Holy Land bearing a palm branch. And so, when my husband became the rector of this church, he asked the Bishop for special permission to make Palm Sunday our feast day, the day that we honor who we are as a church family. The day has been marked as a special celebration in our community life, and in the past few years, a donkey from a nearby farm leads our procession around the church. This year, due to pandemic restrictions, there was no donkey, and no procession. One of our dogs looks and acts, and even sits, like a donkey, and so I ordered some donkey ears for her on the Internet. She was thrilled. My youngest son paraded around the house—and the neighborhood—with those donkey ears for the next week, singing the “Hosanna” tune from Jesus Christ Superstar.
My favorite service of the year is the Easter Vigil, when my husband as the rector lights a fire inside the church, and we all light candles from it. “The light of Christ,” he sings, and the rest of us respond, “Thanks Be to God.” This year, we “gathered” for the Easter Vigil service virtually, on a Zoom call with readings and worship together-but-not. My husband, whose hair and beard have grown to make him look like Donald Sutherland’s “Reverend Monroe” in Cold Mountain, and whose eyebrows are reaching the lengths known heretofore only to The Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, agreed to move our fire pit to the front yard from its usual spot in the back yard. We live in a rectory in a posh neighborhood, and so we decided to let our Easter freak flag fly freely, streaming the service on a laptop a safe distance from the fire pit.
My husband read the Easter sermon of Saint John Chrysostom until his voice broke from the beauty of it. “For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.” Instead of lighting the Paschal Candle in church from the large flame, we used the campfire to light lame candles I dug up from dining room drawers, and let them melt until they were only as long as my thumb.
This was not the Holy Week we imagined in 2019. We might want to remember certain things about this time together, apart from the world, and there are parts we may want to forget. I want my children to remember that even though we could not physically go to the building where we usually worship, our worship life continued. Early Christians certainly had to make symbols of what they had, and I can almost guarantee that if there were altar linens, they were not starched and ironed.
And so, I had the words of St. John Chrysostom echoing in my ears (“Are there any who are devout lovers of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!”) when I packed away the symbols of our quarantined Holy Week. I hope that sealing them up in their own time capsule will help us remember this time together, when the world was afraid, and we were weary, but we celebrated the Risen Lord together. Alleluia!
Are you preserving memories from this time? How?