#ClapForCarers and Holy Week: It is Right to Give Thanks and Praise
Updated: Apr 11, 2020
Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.
In the midst of intensely challenging times for our nation, it was a joy to experience the most recent ‘clap for the NHS & key workers’. I must admit I’ve been a little out of the loop with regard to these events. I didn’t know the first one happened until someone brought it up at work the following day, and I only experienced the second one because I happened to arrive back at my house right around 8pm, after making use of my permitted daily opportunity to exercise. (I now recognise this recurring event is scheduled for every Thursday).
Last Thursday, as I climbed the stairs to the entrance of our house, cars began beeping their horns. Soon people began emerging from their houses and applauding. Next came the rattling of saucepans and other kitchen utensils. A few seconds later arose the sound of a trumpet, almost certainly dusted off after many years without a purpose, which served to add to the feeling of celebration while encouraging others to cheer and rattle all the louder.
As I joined the chorus with my own applause for the NHS and other key workers, and as I took in the joyous moment of solidarity and communal thanksgiving, I also noticed a feeling of celebration arising from within me. This was a beautiful moment, and a right a just response to the circumstances, but it was also a foretaste.
The NHS workers are working on our behalf to take care of us and our loved ones in a way we simply can’t. That is always true, but most of the ways in which we would like to help in this time would actively serve to make things worse. People have been finding creative ways to reach out to neighbours and serve one another, but for the most part we are confined to dwell within our own homes, and are told we must not visit friends and family unless absolutely necessary. Even if we could see each other, the only help we could offer would be therapeutic, rather than contributing anything to combat the virus itself. What would things look like without an effective national health service right now? Without scientists working on a cure? Without supermarket workers stacking the shelves with our essential goods? One of the reasons it is so right that we come together in thankfulness for the NHS and other key workers is that we truly are helpless right now without them. The best we can offer is to confine ourselves indoors while they fight our battles for us.
Another reason it is right to come together to celebrate those working on our behalf right now is that they are putting themselves in harm’s way. Not only are they working long hours in stressful conditions, but while we sit safely at home they are exposed. They aren’t just fighting a battle on our behalf, but in doing so they risk falling ill themselves at the hands of the virus they protect us from.
A final reason I’ll mention (though I’m sure there are many more) that this national coming together in thanksgiving is just is that, while the consequences of infection are much higher for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, none of us are safe from catching this virus. It does not discriminate between people along any of the societal lines we draw for ourselves, but is a threat to our entire community. We all have skin in the game, and we all have family and friends particularly at risk, so as we all come together to thank our key workers on behalf of our nation, we are also coming together in recognition of what they are doing for us. Our communal gratitude is at the same time personal.
These are unprecedented times, worthy of these unprecedented signs of gratitude. At the same time, however, each of these reasons for which we celebrate find, or ought to find, parallels in our Holy Week celebrations.
A clichéd but apt way of thinking about how the Bible describes our fallen creation is one in which everything, and every individual, has fallen sick with a disease. This disease is existential, meaning it is not merely a physical disease but a sickness that has occurred at a deeper level, affecting our eternal wellbeing. It is therefore like the Coronavirus in its global spread, thought it is even more far reaching (indeed, we have all already caught it), and its consequences much more severe.
What we celebrate this week are the final acts of Jesus during his last week of life—the acts which ultimately redeemed all of creation. As Paul writes in the Book of Philippians, Jesus ‘existed in the form of God, yet he gave no thought to seizing equality with God as his supreme prize. Instead he emptied himself of his outward glory by reducing himself to the form of a lowly servant. He became human! He humbled himself and became vulnerable, choosing to be revealed as a man and was obedient. He was a perfect example, even in his death—a criminal’s death by crucifixion! (Philippians 2:6-8)
Like this Coronavirus, we are helpless at finding a cure to the brokenness of creation on our own, and even our best efforts to fix things inevitably end up increasing its spread. So we celebrate and give thanks this week, as we contemplate a God who fought a battle for us when we were helpless.
In battling this Coronavirus, those who fight on our behalf to tend to the sick, seek a cure, and make sure we have our essential goods put themselves in harm’s way. Likewise, when Jesus fought this battle for us, he didn’t do so in glory. He knew the only cure was a costly one. Yet, willingly, for the prize of securing our liberation, he humbled himself and died a criminal’s death. We come together in thanksgiving this week because Jesus put himself in harms way, endured great suffering and paid a costly price for us.
Finally, like this Coronavirus, this battle is personal, but with so much more at stake. We give joyful praise this week, not just because God liberated humanity from the law of sin and death, but because he liberated us - you and me, our loved ones, our family and friends. Our communal thanksgiving is deeply personal.
As we communally reflect this Easter and remember what God has done for us and as we continue to think about what the NHS and other key workers are doing for us, let us celebrate and be glad. Let us also cast our sights ahead, to the greatest celebration of all. As they say when taking communion in the Anglican tradition: ‘It is right to give thanks and praise’.
So by all means, celebrate the NHS and key workers at this time. It is not idolatrous to give thanks where it is due. These workers are saving lives, and once again they are doing so at a time when we are helpless, at great cost, and for a cause that is at once communal (truly global) and at the same time personal. It is right to give thanks and praise.
But it is also right to transcend those moments of celebration and not miss the glimpse of the eternal that they contain, especially this Easter season. As the passage I quoted above continues, ‘Because of that obedience, God exalted him and multiplied his greatness! He has now been given the greatest of all names! The authority of the name of Jesus causes every knee to bow in reverence! Everything and everyone will one day submit to this name—in the heavenly realm, in the earthly realm, and in the demonic realm. And every tongue will proclaim in every language: “Jesus Christ is Lord Yahweh,” bringing glory and honour to God, his Father!’ (Philippians 2:9-11)
Can you imagine? As you stand on your doorstep and applaud with your neighbours for a few minutes, can you imagine the entire world coming together to celebrate? As you see the diversity of faces cheering, united around the NHS, can you image ‘every tongue’ giving thanks ‘in every language’, united in their celebration around a single cause, a single Lord and Saviour, a universal victory once and for all—for each individual for all time?
One of the most powerful things about cheering with our neighbours is that the current circumstances are so unprecedented, whereas many of us take communion every week, and tradition and repetition often have a way of grounding what is in actuality awesome. Truly, the events that we remember during Holy Week are beyond unprecedented. Let’s allow ourselves to celebrate as if this were a rare occasion! Get out the pots and pans if you need to. Dust off the old trumpet. Tell a neighbour why it is that we’re celebrating! Let’s place ourselves there in the crowd cheering during Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, though aware of what lies ahead. Let’s grieve and mourn the cost at which our salvation was secured. Then let’s celebrate with all of creation, and continue celebrating until we do so with him in glory.
It is right to give thanks and praise!
I wrote this reflection on Monday, yet interestingly enough there is now an interdenominational plan to stand on our doorsteps at 3pm this Good Friday (today!) to pray the Lord's prayer, sing Amazing Grace, and declare "It is finished!". Why not take this opportunity to celebrate Jesus in the same way that we are celebrating the NHS?