Sunday, April 01, 2007

Our Hymns And Prayers And Anthems


(Well, to me anyway...)

Today is Palm Sunday. I am about to plunge headlong into Holy Week. For my Episcopalian heart and mind, this is one terrific ride. Friends of mine are often exasperated with my taste in movies. I'll watch just about anyting, but I prefer comedies (not romantic) and mindless action movies. I dislike irony in movies. Or bathos. And I like to be titilated (Vin "Chained at my feet, drenched in my piss" Diesel in xXx wearing handcuffs and threatened with his life by the bad guy was perfect), but I don't favor explicit sexuality.

"But... That doesn't fit... You quote Andrew Marvell when you're seducing guys... You've read Joyce's Ullysses..."

Perhaps it's because I've been through a lot of Holy Weeks in my life.

How to describe for those who have never experienced?

Holy Week is essentially an opportunity to participate in the Passion and death and resurrection of Christ. Like Mel Gibson's movie (which I haven't seen), only You. Are. There.

On Thursday, we'll gather in the church. Things will be pretty much normal. La-di-dah. Only there's the washing of feet. Right up there on the altar, the priest will was the feet of several folks from the congregation. And it's actual foot washing. As in, take off your shoes and socks, and here's this warm water and a basin. But then, after the service, while we all sit there, the church will be stripped bare. Violently. Abruptly. All the flowers and vestments and candles and crosses are removed. Everything is taken out. The Host is taken down to a small chapel. For the next twenty-four hours, in one hour shifts, we'll all be keeping vigil, sitting all through the night in the chapel. When it's all over, the lights go on, and you're sitting in a big empty room. The church is no longer a church. God is dead. It's just a big building that's hard to heat and air-condition. Friday there's another service. Again way toned down. No music. The church is still bare. It concludes with the adoration of the cross. Up on the altar, they hold up a big wooden cross with a silver Jesus in agony hung on it. One by one, people from the congregation go up, and confront it, close up. Some people just stand silently in front of it, maybe crossing themselves. Some people will touch it with their fingertips. Nutjobs like me get down on their hands and knees and press their lips to the wood of the cross. Then we all go home. Okay. So then there's Saturday. Saturday night, at 9 p.m., is the Great Vigil of Easter. When we all go into the church, there's almost no light at all. At the back of the church, a spark is struck, and then a fire--as in, an actual fire!--is kindled. And candles are lit. Everyone in the congregation is provided with a candle, and from the Paschal Candle at the back, two candles are lit, and the people bearing those candles spread out, and start lighting other candles, and when your candle is lit, you light the candles of the people, till soon, the church is filled with light from the candles, all started with the lighting of the Paschal candle. Then there are readings of passages from the Bible, the Creation, the Valley of the Dry Bones... And like three hundred more. It takes a while. Slowly the light comes up, and then the announcement is made: "Alleluia! Christ is Risen!" To which we all reply, "The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia, Alleluia!" And then when we all sing the Gloria, we take bells out of our pockets and ring them.

Say wha...?

Yeah, that's what I'm looking forward to.

See what's going on there? Thursday night is the Last Supper, when Christ washed the feet of his apostles. After celebrating Passover together, they go to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus asks them to wait while he prayes. (That's the vigil through the night part.) In the Garden, Jesus is arrested and ordered to be put to death. That's the stripping of the church. Friday is the crucifixion. And lemme tell ya, the Good Friday service really feels like that, like it must have felt for the people who had been with him all through his preaching and teaching, watching him there, hanging on the cross. I'm so shaken up by Good Friday. Always.

And then, when we come into the church on Saturday and it's all dark? That's because we're there in the tomb with Jesus. Who's dead. And that spark that lights the fire, and the light that spreads out? That's Christ rising from the dead.

Next Saturday night, there I'll be, tears streaming down my face, wildly ringing my bell as I sing, "Glory to God in the highest! And peace to his people on earth!"

So after going through that year after year, most of what passes for "heavy drama" in Hollywood movies just falls short.

I'm an Episcopalian. We know drama.

Here's the haiku:

I pause, motionless:
my own Oberammergau
is soon to begin.


freepig said...

I like your description of the Triduum. I wonder whether your frequent references to faith and church bring hostile comments. When I was young, we gays knew we were the carriers of the culture, and accepted a spiritual sensibility as part of who we are. In more recent years, it has become much more fashionable in gay circles to be bitter and hostile, even violent, in opposition to religion - at least in opposition to Christianity.

Have a blessed and holy Holy Week.

alterboy said...

I'm preaching tonight. I've been meditating on the collect for a while, and it always brings you to mind.
The collect for today (Wednesday in Holy Week):
Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, conficedn of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.