Holy Week 2023
As I left the Hermitage Spiritual RetreatCenter on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, I looked for harbingers of that Celebration. But all that I saw were the greening of fields, some hints of green on the end of branches, a mist of color on the Red Buds, and an occasional Dogwood. But the real disappointment was that Fr. Donald’s Daffodil Plantation on which the monastery is located was utterly dead of flowers. Apparently “global warming” advanced more quickly than an early Easter. Hoeing has begun activity in the garden.
For the weekend, in addition to Marilyn and Tom Schultz (Associates) and Cathleen (HSRC Assoc. Dir. staying the week), our Guest Wing was full with two professors and students from EvangelCollege. They offer a class here on monasticism every year. My assignments were as Reader at Vigils, Sext, and Vespers; Refectory Server; and Presiding Priest on Wednesday and Easter. There were some new things, or at least new to my seeing. Fr. Bernard, who was Novice Master in Vietnam, is with us for several months, giving him an opportunity to visit relatives in the U.S. Fr. Basil has conducted two retreats during Lent (Calif. & Carolina) that were well received. Fr. Alberic (from New Melleray) has returned from a stay in Vietnam, intending to transfer from the Trappists to the Cistercians. He rated the experience “excellent,” teaching English while there. They hope to obtain for him a visitor’s visa so that he can return and do more teaching. Three new monks have been approved by our Vietnamese Mother House to be reviewed by the U.S. Consulate for possible coming to Assumption Abbey. Jill has been recovering very nicely from her hip surgery in March. Now that she is retired, she can only work in the Family Guest House several days a week. There is now a candle holder in the Church beneath the icon of St. Joseph, matching the one under the Virgin Mary. There is a lovely altar cover with 82 crosses woven into it (I counted them!). Scripture and Patristic Readings are now from a new one-volume Book of Readings instead of separate volumes. We are now using a light white wine for Mass from quart bottles rather than red wine from gallon jugs. Apparently our cowls and robes have been washed for Easter. Our large dictionary which for decades has been faithfully at the library window is no longer there. In the kitchen, we have new bins for flour, powdered milk, and sugar. The drawers for cooking and serving utensils are now numbered 1 to 16. An extended family that has been granted hunting privileges here for a number of years, who refurbished our exterior Stations of the Cross, have realigned the crosses in our cemetery. Nazareth Heritage is doing well enough that they might build an additional hermitage. They were with us for the Triduum. Fr. Jesus is hoping to make his vows to the monastic life in the fall. I learned of a letter sent to the Superior some months ago being critical of an affirmative reference I made in a homily on the anniversary of Woodstock.
We had lectio divina before Palm Sunday Mass, and then began at the monastery gate -- with greetings, blessing of the palms, and a Gospel reading of Christ’s procession into Jerusalem. From there we chanted our way into the church. The Superior presided, and three of us read the very long reading from Matthew covering the whole Holy Week story. Whether planned or otherwise, there was no music or reading at lunch -- the silence was delightful. In the afternoon I met with St. Dara for our bi-annual mutual spiritual direction -- that began in 2006. After Vespers we had Adoration and Benediction. All in all, it was a lovely day, with mild sunny weather as an adornment.
My homily on Wednesday began by sharing that at sunset this day began Passover. This is the one event above all others that makes the Jew Jewish. While there are cultural Jews who no longer observe the religious rites of their people, still it is hard for any Jew to utterly forget this event of Passover -- for this is who they are. Passover commemorates the central event in all of the Old Testament, the crescendo of the time when God sends Moses into Egypt where the Jews are in terrible slavery. There Moses speaks the command of God to Pharaoh: “Let my people go!!” To this end, Moses performs miracle after miracle -- turning the water of the land into blood, filling the palace with frogs, etc. -- but all to no avail. So God finally instructs Moses to tell each Israelite family to procure a lamb, to slay it, and to eat it -- after sprinkling its blood on each of their doorways so that the angel of death will pass safely over them. The blood would symbolize sacrifice, bitter herbs would symbolize the affliction of slavery, and the unleavened bread would symbolize the manna with which God would feed his people in the desert. It was THEN that Pharaoh let God’s people go! NOW, when Jesus is unexpectedly betrayed on Thursday of Holy Week, viciously crucified on Friday, by Saturday the disciples are left in total grief and utter confusion. Yet, all of the disciples are Passover Jews, and their Last Supper with Jesus had been a celebration of Passover, and all around them that weekend everyone is celebrating Passover. Therefore it makes perfect sense that this event of Passover would begin to illumine the disciples with a powerfully new meaning concerning these terrible things that had been occurring during this weekend. Thus Easter became the name for when Mary Magdalene and the Disciples first became aware that Christ had become the PASSOVER LAMB, the real Lamb of Lambs, slain from the foundation of the earth -- so it was his blood that was the sacrifice promising to free all the people of the earth, and it was his flesh that would be the manna with which his people from then on would be daily fed. It was through the lens of Passover, then, that these terrible events came to be transformed from tragedy into hope -- transformed into a NEW Passover through which God shouted at all the powers and principalities: “Let my people go!” This is real FREEDOM -- for not only was it release from slavery to sin, but it was also the promise of freedom from slavery to DEATH -- for the angel of death has seen the blood of Christ and will no longer come near us. This is real REDEMPTION, for it was God Himself who so loved us that he HIMSELF became the crucified Lamb. Yes, it all began to make sense -- that while Passover provides meaning for the Jew, providing their defining identify, so it is that the EASTER TRIDUUM gives meaning to the Christian -- and in Baptism it is engraved as circumcision on our souls. Thus St. Paul shouts out for all the apostles, “Christ is our Passover!” And Athanasius shouts out for all the Fathers and Mothers of the Church: “Christ has been sacrificed as our Passover!” I have come to believe that if Passover makes the Jew Jewish, it is the Triduum that makes the Christian Christian. Therefore beginning tomorrow we will celebrate as if for the first time the death of Christ our Lamb, bequeathing to us the gift of the Mass in which to celebrate the Triduum, again and again. And on Easter morning we shall consummate the Triduum with the Feast of all Feasts, in which we shall lift the works of our hands with Christ into God, and then drink the chalice for the strength to respond to the Spirit that yearns and lures and thrusts and urges all things toward their Easter completion in the Kingdom of God.
Bishop Liebrecht was to make a welcomed Holy Week visit for mass and lunch with the Nazareth hermits, and then with us in the afternoon. But he called in sick. SomeeH hif e fds ome of my labora consisted of washing down the double exterior doors for refinishing (Ava doesn’t stock polyethylene so I’ll buy some on my next trip to the monastery), and cleaning out the rooms of Fr, Peter and Fr. Matthew. On Good Friday morning we each read a psalm in a 9 AM service. Lunch was hot or cold water and bread. At the 3:00 Liturgy I was Deacon. Three of us read again the whole of the Holy Week story, this time in parts and from the Gospel of John. Fr. Basil and I led in the intercessions. A few minor new twists were added. In the afternoon Fr. Cyprian and I wrote a brief record of the Family Brother Program to be kept in the office safe. Unfortunately I slept through most of Lauds, failing to hear the “clicker” that is used during the Triduum instead of the bell. At 8:45 AM we met at the entrance to the exterior Stations of the Cross and after Terce we walked together, taking turns in leading each Station
At 3:15 AM, Easter Vigil began with a cold full moon. It is dramatic, lasting over two hours. Its restoration is one of the finest contributions from Vatican II. We gathered on the front drive around a bonfire I call the “Fire of Betrayal.” As a whippoorwill sang a premature alleluia, we lighted from the fire a huge Easter Candle -- and following it we chanted our way into the darkened Church, now carrying our own small candle lighted by the Easter Candle. Alberic, NM, chanted well the difficult Exsultlet. Key are the nine readings portraying the whole of Salvation History. There was the Blessing of water for our forgiveness, followed by the renewal of our Baptismal Vows, and a homily by the Superior. After a short break, we did Lauds.
After Terce at 8:45 AM, we began the EASTER DAY Mass. My homily began by stating that one would think that on this day of days the Gospel would declare the Easter Proclamation with definitive clarity. And yet, that is not so! Rather, John describes the scene this way. It is still dark on Easter morning -- the Easter dawn has not yet occurred. Mary Magdalene has been to the tomb and returns to the disciples with perplexing news: it is empty and Jesus’s body is gone. We begin to realize that for the Disciples the resurrection has not yet occurred, because John simply cannot resist declaring that he outran Peter to the tomb. Oh my, will these disciples ever stop competing, putting themselves first and putting the rest of the disciples down! Be that as it may, they enter the tomb, and see the wrappings on the ground. Now listen carefully to what happens next. The scriptures read, John “saw and believed.” Now isn’t that enough -- for if a movie had been made of this moment, wouldn’t this be the precise moment when trumpets would have burst forth, and the angels would have sung “alleluia” at the top of their lungs. Apparently not -- for right after scripture says that John believes, we read these words: “Remember, as yet they did not understand the Scripture that Jesus HAD to rise from the dead.” So they just went home -- but when one is encountered by the Resurrection, one can never go home again. So what can that scriptural verse mean? I believe that it means that although they might believe that Jesus was raised, what was missing was the “So what?” What if at Christmas a child named Emmanuel was born, and now at Easter a man who was dead is supposedly walking around -- SO WHAT? And to find out, we turn to today’s reading from Acts, which apparently portrays St. Peter’s first sermon after having learned WHY the SO WHAT is indispensable. He begins his sermon calmly by affirming that Jesus was a fine man who performed good works and healed many persons. But then he raises his voice and declares -- “while this Jesus was crucified, he has been raised. Yes, and for whom? Peter declares clearly: he has been raised “for those who ate and drank with him.” Yes, that’s it -- that those who experience the “real presence” in the Eucharist, by eating and drinking with Christ himself, have received forgiveness of their sins. That is when Christ is raised for each of us -- when in the Eucharist our sins that are as scarlet are made as white as snow. Yet there is more. Ours is a generation that is terribly split by negativity. The Republicans scream NO to the Democrats, and the Democrats scream NO back to the Republicans -- so that compromise seems impossible. The government is losing respect for it always seems negative -- you can’t do this, you’ve got to get a license for that -- No, no, no! And so it often is with Christianity itself. One of the saddest things that I hear in doing spiritual direction is how much the Christian faith has left painful scars on people. The God with whom they were raised was a fearsome Deity, threatening to cast them into a hell of eternal fire, and to end creation with fire and brimstone. They were taught over and over again that “the beginning of wisdom is the “fear of God.” Just this last week I counseled with a person who was terrified that Christ had put on him the Mark of the Beast. This kind of Christianity can put into persons not only fear for their own lives, but can make negative even creation itself. They are taught never to affirm the beauty of this world. But to all of this rejection, St. Paul declares the contrary. “With Jesus,” he says, “it is always YES, and never NO!” And so we have refrained from uttering alleluias for 40 days and 40 nights so that at Eastertide we may shout with all our might to all of creation a resounded YES, celebrating the Easter vision of a New Heaven and a New Earth -- to which not all may choose to come, but nevertheless ALL are invited.
During these 50 days of the Easter Season, may we at least once taste the joy of what all of this means?
Happy Easter to you all!