Sunday, April 04, 2010

Happy Easter!

A little late, but it’s been a long Holy Week --- it always is. Up this morning at 5 to cook a little for the meal that followed this morning’s festival Easter service, I came home after that service and meal --- and took a nap. That tends to put you a little behind. The service was wonderful, the “brunch” great. But like I said it’s been a long Holy Week.

I came to appreciate the rhythm of Holy Week in the liturgical church as a Lutheran and have carried that with me into the Episcopal Church. I’m grateful now to be able to participate in it fully rather than trying to squeeze profound and solemn services into a supper break during those years I worked an odd afternoon-into-night schedule.

After Palm Sunday, there is a break, of course --- then Maundy Thursday,“Maundy” from the Latin mandatum, as in "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" --- "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you" --- the statement by Jesus quoted by St. John the Evangelist to explain to the Apostles the significance of his action in washing their feet.

Foot-washing is a part of the Episcopal rite, which commemorates the Last Supper. Then stripping of the altar and the church as Psalm 22 is read, carrying everything bright and celebratory and light out, empying the ambry of consecrated oil and elements of the Eucharist, extinguishing the sanctuary lamp.

The Good Friday service in that darkened and austere church was the most moving, I think. We read the Gospel account of the Passion most years as choral readers, many taking individual parts, the congregation acting as the crowd: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Astonishingly, we scream that. It’s powerful stuff.

A cross fashioned from the timbers of a fallen century-old barn had been laid across the side altar. As we left, each took a slip of paper bearing his or her name and pounded it into the cross with hammer and nail, then stepped out of the darkened church into total darkness.

Light returned during the Great Vigil of Easter, after sunset on Saturday. It began around an open fire outside the church --- new fire. Candles were lighted from the fire and carried into the church where the paschal candle was lighted, then light gradually returned elsewhere in the church as the service continued and Resurrection neared.

We partnered with Lutherans for the vigil this year at Grace Church in Albia and blended Episcopal and ELCA liturgies, an interesting combination that also shortened the service --- the Episcopal rite is fairly hard-core and can be very long if all the readings and prayers are included, as they tend to be.

This Saturday night, there still was light in the western sky when we set out to dodge deer on the road back to Chariton --- and that was appreciated.


We have been following during Lent this year a little book of devotions distributed to all parishes by Episcopal Relief and Development, one of the benevolence agencies of the church. The devotions, written by Sr. Claire Joy of the Community of the Holy Spirit, are short and simple and I was especially struck with the meditation for Tuesday in Holy Week, March 30.

It is based upon Psalm 31:2-3: “Wash me through and through from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.”

“Wash me thoroughly, it says in the King James Version (the Bible I grew up reading), the author writes. “We’re not talking about bubble bath, not a gentle cleansing with Ivory Snow.

“No., when we are sinful, we are soiled --- needing to be spotted, soaked and scrubbed with a stuff brush. Cleansing is such an innocuous word. It sounds easy.

“But cleansing is not a gentle action. It takes work, it takes elbow grease. It uproots wickedness from the fiber of our beings. It’s not bleach that does this, but blood. And not our own blood.

“Knowing our need for cleansing is the first step. Accepting the radical gift of how that happens takes a little longer.”

We celebrated the triumph of that radical gift today, ending Lent, ending Holy Week. The end. Back to life as usual. Or is it? Accepting the radical gift is the easy part, or at least it should be, because it’s free for the taking. But having accepted it, now we’ve got to figure out what to do with it. So Easter really isn’t the end at all, merely the beginning. And it's time to get to work.

The interior of St. Andrew's Church after the flowers had been placed and the candles lighted Easter morning, but before the congregation arrived.

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