Sunday, April 12, 2009

Reflections from the Paschal Triduum and Easter

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

It is Sunday night and I am spent. The past week I took part in eleven services... from Gregorian Latin Compline, to the Synod's Chrism Mass and then on through the services of the Triduum and Easter morning. I have been following this pattern for the past five years now, and while some things are easier, it never gets completely effortless. There is always a snag here or there (like thinking morning prayer starts at 7:30 a.m. on Easter morning, but it's really 7:00!!! DOH!). And by this afternoon, my legs felt like I had run a solid half-marathon the day before; they ached so badly. But all in all, I am energized after this cycle. And I have been reflecting on some of the services and what they mean to me...

First, on Maundy Thursday,while I am always surprised at how few people turn out for this service, I continue to do it because it speaks to my pastoral identity. Not only do I speak the explicit words of absolution that have been absent during Lent, but I was feet. I wash anyone's feet who come forward. Of course, there is always a reluctance to come forward. And my gut feeling is that it is because there is a good deal of shame involved. Our feet are really not very pleasant. To have someone stoop then and wash them is a jolting experience.... unless one is used to having routine pedicures, which I would highly doubt is the case for most folks who are attending. When you remove your socks and shoes for someone else to pay attention to, you are required to open yourself and be vulnerable. I am always reminded at the level of intimacy that people welcome me their pastor into their lives as I wash their feet. "Here, pastor," they say, "here are my feet, but remember as you hold these parts of my body which I keep covered up and hidden, those aren't all you are to hold. You hold my sicknesses, my stays in the hospital, my martial problems, my financial distress, all those broken areas..." And yes, as Jesus set an example, I set one too... I am helping them see how they are present to be open and vulnerable as Christians in a broken world. The washing of their feet is a reminder, it seems to me, that they too are called to the ministry of the baptized, serving others as they make Christ's presence in the world known. Bring me those feet.

On Good Friday, at noon, we have been praying Stations of the Cross for a few years now. For a hodge podge (i.e. no distinct ethinc heritage and many transplants) Lutheran congregation, I have been amazed that not once have I heard, "Stations of the Cross? Isn't that CATHOLIC, Pastor?" Of course, I am sure that many in the congregation suspect that I am a crypto-Catholic, what with my chasubles, my chanting, the use of Sanctus bells on the three major festivals... but nothing here. And the number in attendance is quite significant. But the service balances, I believe, the emotional and the intellectual content so that we can be drawn into both of those even if we tend to favor one or the other. The readings are knit together so that we hear from many sources that act as a commentary on Jesus' death, using only Scripture and prayers. Forget guilt. The particular Stations we pray are not about making us feel bad for what happened to Jesus but to see God's extravagant love and what God will do to save us from ourselves.

We follow a fairly standard Adoration of the Cross service... with some elements of a Tenebrae service included--namely, the gospel reading is divided into seven parts with a hymn following each, and the nave becomes successively darker as we go. But after the bidding prayer, the lights come up for the entrance of the cross, the solemn reproaches and then the ability for people to pray at the cross that I have just wrestled down the aisle. This cross is large. When I first arrived here, I had asked if we could build one. A member of the congregation said he would take care of it, and one day I saw him outside the church working on a roof beam. I am not kidding when I say we actually could crucify someone on this cross. But despite the effort it takes me to bring it in, I wouldn't trade this cross at all for anything. I realize that this effect could be taken too far, but if you are going to ponder the cross, let's not use a tiny 2x4 cross. Let's make the cross seem as dangerous and as rough as possible. And then let people go up and kneel before it, touch it, pray beside it, kiss it even. Be prepared, God took on no light thing in redeeming us.

The Vigil is awfully interesting. Two years ago, everything seemed to go wrong. This year, only my chanting of the Exultet went wrong. Not enough light, not enough practice time, brutally hard piece, no voice left at that point anyway for much chanting. But the roof didn't collapse. The gospel was proclaimed. The sacraments were administered. And I have learned that I just should not take myself all that seriously. If the Vigil reminds me of anything, it reminds me from the opening verses, it is not about me. How many times do we use that phrase in seminary? How many more times should we remind ourselves it isn't about us? The office of readings is plain. We are entering God's story. Sit down and pay attention.

Easter morning comes and goes. The pomp and liturgical actions are feasts for me. I adore the service, and I suspect that most folks delight in it on this day as well. Candles, bells, robust singing... all of it feeds me. And yet, today as I left the church, the last one out the door, I walked through the nave and was struck at how simple and beautiful the place looked. Nothing over the top. Everything seemed just right, and there in the silence I stopped. I stood between the font and the altar and I prayed. I gave thanks for having been woven into this grand and amazing story.

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

1 comment:

Jonathan Neiderhiser said...

I'll always remember that famous Easter Vigil! Here in S.D., they let me chant Psalm 22 during the Stripping of the Altar, which apparently hasn't been done (I guess they read the psalm in the past). It was a big hit! We didn't have Vigil, but they opened the sunrise service in darkness and brought the flowers in once the service started, so I guess there was a hint of the Vigil. Jen and I will keep working on them :)