A Paschal Symphony!
The blurred visions of shattered glass and clearing smoke announced yet another slaughter of the innocent. I stared blankly at the wave of human fear racing from a bombed out departure lounge and struggling to climb to the surface from a crumpled subway station. Images flashed by of the victims–those dead and those barely alive some of whose severed limbs were tastefully blurred from view. The accompanying soundtrack was the terrified wailing of a single child. “Oh, God, not again!” was my thought and my prayer.
This is turning out to be no ordinary Holy Week. Woven together with the remembrance of Jesus final journey are the scenes of destruction and the violent and sometimes vile reactions to those scenes. I think it is essential that those of us who struggle to follow in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth do indeed see the celebrations of this week as intimately connected not just to our daily lives, but also to the events in our world.
The liturgical backdrop of the Sacred Triduum provides a score for great human symphony whose passages contain strains of what is best and what is worst in each of us and in society as a whole. This symphony has five movements.
The first of these movements is celebrated this Holy Thursday. Gathered for a meal, Jesus takes off his outer garment, wraps a towel around his waist, and kneels to wash the feet of his friends and disciples. His great teaching of this day is not about individual piety or self-perfection. Rather it is about a vine and branches. It is about a new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you!” It is consecrated with a new communal meal, “Do this in my memory.”
The second movement of the symphony is filled with dark notes of abandonment and betrayal. Sleepy disciples cannot watch and pray for one hour. Jesus is given up with a friend’s kiss, and his vicar denies ever having known him. For the sake of his mission, Jesus sacrifices all and enters into a final agony that is sealed with humiliation and torture. All this is sanctified by Jesus’ loving resolve.
Movement three is ominous and thunderous death—death as a criminal. It is a death that is witnessed by a small clutch of faithful friends, avoided by disciples who have fled in fear, and jeered by a mocking crowd. The cruel conception of an execution by nailing squirming bodies to wooden beams takes on a new meaning as Jesus demonstrates the “greater love” that is willing to die a horrible death so that others might live. The movement ends with Jesus being laid to rest in a borrowed grave.
After this darkest of movements, the symphony plays out the dawning strains of a new world. As the cadences rise, the brightening skies witness an empty tomb. Darkness turns to light. “He is risen! He is not here. Go tell the others.”
The symphony ends with a celebration of new life. Death has been defeated, and the promise has been fulfilled. It is Easter, and with blessed fire, sanctified water, and lilting alleluias, we are left with nothing to fear.
As the notes and images of Holy Week and Easter fade away, we just have to notice that our mission is to be a community of love. Our pervasive witness in the face of the shards of broken glass and jumbles of bloodied bodies is to join together and to draw others to the kingdom by our love and sacrifice—by being agents of light and life.
We cannot waste Easter by listening to those who would ostracize and persecute whole groups of people in the name of security. Our paschal celebration–played out as it is in a society that seems to reward belligerence and cultivate vengeance as paths to justice–must remind us of our most dearly held belief. Because of the death and resurrection of the Christ, we treasure life and cannot and will not let death be victorious.
At the Great Vigil, we listen to the singing of the Easter Proclamation:
Rejoice, heavenly powers!
Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen.
Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King.
Christ has conquered!
Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes forever!
My Easter wish is for you to hear the symphony and for us together to rededicate ourselves to the kingdom of peace and justice and love that the mysteries of this holy season proclaim.
Christ has risen! He has truly risen!