06 April 2009

Approaching the Triduum. Another look at a Holy Week Exercise

Last year I posted about one of the practices I do each year during Holy Week especially in light of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Today after Mass I spoke to a class of eighth graders about Holy Week --- it was impromptu and not really prepared --- and one of the things I spoke of was this practice as a way of getting in touch with one of the dimensions of Holy Week and the Triduum. It is a time of great highs and lows and it is important to open our hearts to all of these for they are meaningless apart from each other and depend on one another for both depth and power.

We talked about how the disciples felt after the crucifixion and I reminded them of the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. You remember the story, of course: while walking along they meet a man they do not recognize and he asks them what is happening. They look at him as though he climbed out from under a rock to not know what had gone on in Jerusalem, and they explain about Jesus' crucifixion:
"The man we THOUGHT (hoped) was God's messiah was crucified. He is dead. Some women went to his tomb and found it empty, but when our companions went to see for themselves, they found nothing." (see full text below.) And the implications are clear: "Everything we thought about him was untrue. However he did what he did, whether by magic or some other way, it could not have been by the hand of God, for he died a completely godless death, shameful, unvindicated. The Kingdom he announced is not at hand, the love, forgiveness, and mercy of God he claimed to model and mediate is not something we can believe in. He died an abject sinner, a blasphemer, and God did not save him but instead abandoned him --- as we heard from his own mouth! Godless death has triumphed."

For a period of days the disciples were left bereft. At the very least, Good Friday and Holy Saturday saw the end of ALL their hopes and dreams. During the Triduum it is a good idea to reflect on this, with how it must have felt to be so disappointed, to really be left with nothing but their old lives (to the extent they could simply go back to those), an older vision of God, of reality. With the kids I asked them what it would feel like if someone they loved and admired turned out to be a criminal, someone who had claimed to be one thing but was really shown to be something else entirely. What would it feel like to lose a best friend or hero to death but ALSO to find out they were something other than what they believed, that perhaps they were a fraud and even a blasphemer? THAT was what the disciples were experiencing on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. THAT is what they were experiencing before someone arrived with the news that he had been raised, that he was alive and vindicated by God, that he REALLY WAS the person they believed him to be --- and a good deal more besides. It is what they would have continued to feel without the resurrection and an experience of the risen Christ.

As I wrote earlier in reflecting on this experience of Good Friday and especially Holy Saturday: [[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. ]](Review For Religious, January/February 2001)

With the eigth graders today we talked about all the things that would simply "go away" had Jesus stayed good and dead. There would be no Catholic school (with ALL that implies) for them, and many of their best friends would not be part of their lives. There would be no church, and nothing they have come to know and love because of that connection, not to mention teachers who love and nurture them in Christ, a place where religion is practiced openly, etc. I spoke of Sisters I would not have had Jesus stayed "good and dead," a vocation and life I could never have discovered or lived had the world of sin and death been triumphant that day, a hermitage which would be simply a barren apartment otherwise, friends, teachers, mentors, etc, who would never have become part of my life, and I then described the practice I do each year on Good Friday and which I complete during the weeks (especially the first week) of Easter. I encouraged them to give this a try themselves, and I encourage you similarly.

From last year's post: [[I remove or cover 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 . . . 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 or covered. 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 which 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.]]

If we are to really celebrate Easter we need to spend time with Good Friday and Holy Saturday as well. If we are to appreciate the meaning and experience the joy of the resurrection, we really need to understand what the world would have been like in light of Jesus' crucifixion and death alone, what, as one eigth grader put it, would "go away," and what we would really be left with. For most of us it is a stark and awful vision, not unlike the vision of reality Elie Wiesel saw with particular clarity on the day the innocent boy was hanged. (See post from last week.)

Excursus: Text from Luke 24: "What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days:" And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see."