Monday, 25 April 2011

Triduum Reflections

It is Good Friday. The most harrowing of Christian days. Not Maundy Thursday, the tenderness of the Last Supper where the Church chants with joy : You have prepared for us a royal priesthood and stands with awe and thanksgiving at the fount of that Sacrifice that still sustains her daily. Nor is Good Friday filled with that pregnant silence, nervous and trembling, that marks Holy Saturday: a silence and a darkness, but a silence that hopes.

No. Good Friday is the culmination of that awful stripping that occurs at the end of the liturgy of Holy Thursday. There is no blessing. There is no dismissal. Just a horrid prefiguring silence as the sacerdotal procession departs and every fabric, every decoration is torn from the sanctuary. It is a silence, bare and unadorned, that continues through the anguished hours of prayer in Gethsemane to the Good Friday liturgy, which again starts in that silence. There is no hymn here, no broadly intoned melody to cause one to rise with exuberant expectation. No. Only the slow shuffling of feet as the procession enters. The solemn rhythm of prayer up to the sanctuary and then the priest prostrates himself before the altar with such an unbearable silence that one looks away. Rising from there, the service simply begins with the Collect, the opening prayer. No sign of the Cross, no introduction, no invitatory chant or psalm. Nothing. And then you understand that this is the same silence that departed from the sanctuary but a day ago. It is of the same fabric, though deeper.

How then does one fathom this God that sought us out to such ends that He endured the Cross? It struck me today, as I say there amongst the multitudes holding the crucifix before my eyes. How do I make this mystery real and authentic in my heart, I wondered, as I proceeded to the sanctuary to kiss the Cross, the brutality of my salvation cold on my lips. As I knelt, I realized how subversive Good Friday is. How frightfully it undermines me.

Because the Cross says two things to me today. That He loved me before I could respond, and that it comes to me as a gift that cost Him all. In this way, the Cross runs completely opposite to the two great movements that we all have: to deserve and to do. That is: to be worthy of something and be treated correspondingly, and to act so as to become worthy. I want to achieve by my actions a measure of worthiness, so that it remains mine. I want to be deserving, so that my justice holds: I mete out love to the deserving, and they to me, and so I have a measure of control over my world. Because it is my world, and I act to keep it so.

The Cross refuses to bend to this. His Love is poured out in that catastrophic terror of the Cross long before I can become ready to receive it. I can’t ever catch my breath to make the first move and so retain some semblance of dignity when entering into this mystery of my salvation. No. It is all there, a gutwrenching outpouring of His blood on the wood and the rocks, and the wailing of women that should be weeping rather for themselves and their children. How can I ever prepare for this? I can’t. I have to let this control and preparation dissipate, and simple receive what I didn’t even ask for. Grace. Forgiveness. Peace.

So if all deserving becomes a meaningless breath of wind fluttering away before the Saviour raised up on the Cross, what am I to do? ‘Freely you have received, freely give’. The Cross establishes a pattern of Love that alters one. First, in the receiving, because to receive it means to reject the paradigm of calculated deserving. Second, in the giving anew, because Grace can never end. The Trinity itself eternally loves and is loved. God is One, but Three, so that there is Giver and Gift and Giving in everlasting exchange. Grace that ends and is held and not passed to the Other is not Grace. But you see the Cross makes this pattern frightening, because it means that my love must be as the Love that mounted that Cross: real, vulnerable and uncalculating. And perhaps most frighteningly, my Love may have to precede its reciprocation, and involve pain. Do I trust my Father enough to pass through that self-outpouring? Jesus did.

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