21 March 2008

An exercise for Good Friday and Holy Saturday

In an earlier post I noted that in some ways Holy Saturday is under appreciated or celebrated. It is right that as a Church we do not give way to unconstrained grief on Good Friday, nor forget that Jesus IS risen and will never die again, yet during the Triduum we do repeat an obeservance of the events of those original Three Days on which all of our hope is founded. And originally, Holy Saturday marked the end of all the disciples' hopes.

As I wrote earlier, [[We observe Holy Saturday as the day when sin and death have triumphed. On this day there is no Savior, no Church, no Sacrament, and no Gospel. There is nothing to celebrate or proclaim. There is neither hope, nor freedom, nor real future. Sin and death are the apparent victors, and the present is as empty and forlorn as the desolate plaint of the enfeebled and failed messiah, whom we heard cry out from the cross just the day before. On this day we recall the original disciples --- broken by disappointment, grief, guilt, and shame, and stunned to terrified silence when the powers of the world overcame the One they called “Christ.” Their shattered hope for the definitive coming of God’s reign, and the ignominious, apparently unvindicated death of the man Jesus, stands at the center of our vision as well on this day. And in the shadow of this recollection, the bleakness of a world dominated by a power that regularly opposes and subverts the work of the Author of Life is clear. On this day, our entire horizon is death and the victory it has achieved over God’s Son, over us, and over our world. ]]

I wanted to share something I do each year that helps me observe this day more effectively, and which also prepares for a wonderful piece of Easter praxis. I remove anything from the environment of the hermitage which is meaningful in light of the Risen Christ. Of course that means an empty and open tabernacle, removal of the presence lamp, etc, but it also means any pictures, statuary, pictures of friends who are part of my life because of a shared faith, books (these days,just the books on the table next to my chair with Office, Bible, and whatever I am using for lectio at the time), certificates or other pictures, etc. Again, anything which points to the meaningfulness and richness of my life because of the Risen Christ is removed and put away. Ordinarily I take time as I do this, and consider what life might be like without these or what they represent. When it is the picture of a friend, I might focus on some of the times I failed to love them adequately, or some of the challenges to grow their friendship confronted me with. Still the accent is on what life would be like without them and who I am because of them. I cannot reproduce the grief of the disciples, but I can get in touch with the times in my life where things have seemed senseless, or where I have struggled with grief, depression, loss, etc, and imagine what these would have been like without faith and the Risen Christ.

Beginning Easter Sunday I begin putting things back --- slowly. And as I do so I take time to pray in gratitude for what it means in my life. If it is a picture of a friend, then I take time to remember some of the times we have celebrated together, some of the victories their love has made possible. Ordinarily this process takes some days, a little each day during Easter week. Thus, while the Eucharist is immediately brought back to the tabernacle and the risen Christ is present in this way once again, Easter week continues to remind in small ways of Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

I think anyone can try this exercise. One need not remove everything, though that is VERY effective in helping one see clearly how central one's Christianity is in one's life, and also how much would be lost had Christ simply "stayed good and dead." The key (even if one chooses a few key pictures, symbols, etc) is to do it slowly and thoughtfully, with attention to one's feelings, and to allow it to become a prayer. This is equally true of the process of returning things to their places and reconnecting with all they mean or symbolize.