As I write this, we are coming to the end of the Lenten season. Many of us are struggling with our Lenten promises/sacrifices. Many of us may have given up on our Lenten promises & sacrifices. 🙂 All of us, however, are getting ready. But getting ready for what? Most people would answer “Easter, of course.” And that reply, however true, needs more.
Lent officially ends (as many of you will be happy to hear) Thursday, April 13th at sundown, with the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday). At that celebration we enter into the Paschal Triduum (“paschal” for “Easter/passage/Passover” – it refers to the life, death & resurrection of Jesus; “triduum” for “three days”).
To mark the beginning of this holiest of times, there is only one Mass celebrated on this day. Because this Mass actually begins a three-day celebration, the entrance procession at many parishes may be longer and more symbol-filled than at other times. It is at this celebration that we encounter John’s account of the last supper (John 13:1-15).
Here we have the story of Jesus washing the feet of his apostles. Accordingly, the liturgy encourages us to enter into that moment by reenacting it during our Mass. This isn’t a play put on for us to watch, though. It’s supposed to remind us of our essential call as followers of Jesus – service. And not just any service, but direct and personal service, the kind where things may get messy and intimate. This day and this liturgy challenge us to do something that is a bit too uncomfortable, a bit too vulnerable – touch others and let them touch us. It’s good to remember that unlike the other gospels, John does not have Jesus saying any words of consecration over the bread – the act of washing & serving are his Eucharist.
In many churches this is a time to remove everything from the altar and in general make our parishes look bare. We also reserve (put away from the church) any consecrated hosts. Finally, we end the liturgy in silence, because in fact this same liturgy continues tomorrow at our celebration of Good Friday. Think of it as a celebration in three parts, broken up over three days.
On Friday, we celebrate our Lord’s Passion. We begin the service in silence, because the celebration has already started the day before. The readings for the day (Isaiah 52 & 53, Psalm 31, and John 18 & 19) all serve to remind us of the great sacrifice that Jesus gave for us. However, this is not a funeral liturgy for Jesus. It is another chance for us to enter into the mystery of God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice, a chance for us to live out our own dying and rising. It is a chance for our Lenten promise & sacrifice to be meaningful in the context of Jesus’ sacrifice. On this day, more so than any other day, we hand ourselves over to God and pray, along with Jesus, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Many parishes will hold reenactments of the passion and death of Jesus, stations of the cross, rosaries, and many other forms of communal prayer. They remind us that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are for all of us a people, as a family, not for each of us individually. They give us a chance to reconnect with our faith as a family and as a church.
The Easter Vigil on Saturday night is one of the holiest times of our faith, and also the one most filled with symbols. Fire, water, bread, wine, oil and story all powerfully remind us that God is present everywhere. We celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, and in so doing celebrate our bodily resurrection as well. We rejoice in the triumph of the cross and we are ecstatic at the humbling of death. We enter 50 glorious days of Easter, not just one Sunday of Easter, and we use this time as church to remember that our faith is a living faith because our God is a living God.
May our three-day preparation for the Easter season be a time of renewed faith, a time of renewed hope, and a time of renewed love. May we be able to sing and pray in the words of the psalmist, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad!”
Blessings & Peace,