Sunday, April 12, 2009


It's done! It's completed. It's celebrated.

I am totally exhausted.

This is partly because this year's Triduum (the 3 days that celebrate Jesus' arrest, trial, death and resurrection) started a day early for me. A parish in Manhattan asked for some brothers to be with them for their service of Tenebrae on Wednesday, because they were taking up a collection for the work of St Raphael's Place - our work with poor people with AIDS. So Br James, who is the director of St Raphael's, went with me to the City on Wednesday afternoon and we attended the service in the evening.

It has been years since I went to a Tenebrae service, and it was lovely. It's a service of Psalms and Responds and Holy Apostles parish has a superb choir which sang the Psalms to Gregorian Chant and Responds to the music of Victoria - and a better combination you could not get, at least for me. It was quiet and rejuvenating and I left the church feeling rested and glad we had come. Then on the way home we ran into construction work on the New York Thruway and spent an hour driving at 3 to 5 mph, and arrived home between midnight and 1. Up the next morning at 6 for the beginning of the Three Great Days.

Thursday night was the all-night Vigil, and for many years I have kept the watch between 2 and 3 am. If I'd had any sense I would have forgone it this year, but I couldn't stand the thought. That time is too precious to me. So I was up for an hour in the middle of the night and glad of it - though my gladness didn't last the whole day, I must admit. Friday night I had a good long sleep, but by that time my body was feeling like I was playing a cruel joke on it by giving it enough sleep. And last night, for whatever reason, I was jittery and couldn't settle down and finally fell asleep at 1 am - and was up again at 4 to get ready for the vigil.

So I apologize if I am less coherent than usual. Put it down to an excess of liturgy. It's one of the occupational hazards of Benedictine monks.

My chief memories of Holy Week this year are of Good Friday. It's mostly because I wasn't part of the ceremony this year, for the first time in many, many years. Oh yes, I did play Pilate in our reading of the story of the Crucifixion from John's Gospel, and I sang a couple of things, but otherwise I was free to just be there; to participate, to witness, to worship. I had the leisure (remember a couple of posts back?) to notice what I was experiencing.

As I have written before, I always find myself caught up in seeing those who come to participate in the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday. Half-way through the service a large wooden cross is set up in the front of the Church, and people come to it one by one. Most of them kneel in front of the cross, spend a moment there, and then kiss it and return to their seats, but there is variation in what happens. Some can't kneel, some press their head to the cross, some just hold it for a while. But no one holds back. Everyone reaches out to that symbol of awful, unjust, painful suffering, and in touching it somehow bring it into themselves. Because I know so many of the people who are here for Holy Week, I know what many of them bring to that cross:

An old friend whose life is now bound to a wheel chair by disease, and the husband who has cared so lovingly for her for so long.
A man who has struggled long years with addiction, and who struggles still.
Several people whose lives have been shattered by death or who are facing the end of their own lives.
Some black people and some gay people who come bearing years of scorn and mistreatment.
Young people, who haven't had a lot of suffering yet, but who approach the cross tentatively and reach out almost shyly, clearly feeling the importance of what they are doing, often for the first time.

I pray for these, and others, as they go past me on their way to the cross, and I always cry a bit, as I pray for them.

And this year there were some other moments, because I wasn't busy organizing anything or keeping any ceremony in order and flowing smoothly, and just had the time to be part of it.

When we had the confession and absolution just before Communion, my heart opened and I felt the wonder of forgiveness. It wasn't that I felt forgiven of any particular thing. It was a different experience than that. I seemed to be feeling the reality of the eternal forgiveness of God, not the forgiveness that God does, but the forgiveness that God is. It's knowing that God is a love that is so immense that forgiveness flows as part of it. And I knew that love is always there and surrounds me at every moment, no matter whether I feel it or not - which, as often as not, I don't.

And then we prayed the Lord's Prayer, which I pray at least 3 times a day most every day of my life. I have prayed that prayer literally thousands of times. You'd think that the meaning of it would have forsaken me by now, but actually it is quite the opposite. And on Friday I felt a deep wonder at the yearning it expresses for God's Kingdom to come - right here, right now, in the midst of us.

That was my Good Friday.

And the Great Vigil this morning. Oh, my. As we rehearsed yesterday I said to the people who were here that the Vigil is one of the greatest experiences of the reality that faith is not a matter of what we do with our heads. We don't have faith by thinking about it. We have faith by sitting in a dark room hearing the story of our people as they struggled through the years, looking for God. We get faith by processing, and by dancing and by singing and by shouting "Christ is Risen". Faith comes to us in the rising of the sun, coming over the eastern horizon with a mighty presence and bathing all of us in light as the Vigil draws to a close.

And in the shout - the yell - that came from all of us this morning: "He is risen, indeed" it seemed to me that faith was so thick that it could have been cut with a knife.

I'll sleep later - after our celebratory meal, after I get my friend Eleanor to the airport, after we have the joy of our Easter Bach Vespers and the scores of people who will be here for that. My exhaustion will wait. For now, I have been overtaken by the Resurrection and the renewal of life that comes with it.


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