Lent has ended with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday Evening. We have now entered the Three Holy Days, also known as the Paschal or Easter Triduum (Latin for "Three Days").
I have been reflecting in this blog upon the "sacred geography" contained within the Gospel Readings of Lent. Now the Three Holy Days of Holy Thursday through Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and the Easter Vigil through Easter Sunday, have been described in one Church document as the "holy Mountain of Easter." As we shall see this "mountain" transcends any actual place or time. Still, in the celebration of the Three Holy Days three major geographical and historical places are mentioned and have the greatest spiritual significance: the Upper Room, Calvary, and the Empty Tomb.
This past Sunday–Palm Sunday–Jesus entered triumphantly into the City of Jerusalem. By entering into "the city," spiritually speaking, he is entering into the place or order and disorder, of civilization and crime, the place of much distraction and even greater temptation. Jerusalem is especially fraught with danger; as Jesus lamented, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling." (Matthew 23:37)
It will only be at the End of Time, in the Second Coming of Christ, that "the city," i.e., human civilization will be perfectly redeemed; the "old Jerusalem" will be replaced by the "New and Heavenly Jerusalem" which will come down from heaven to earth (Revelation 21:1-2) and there will be "new heavens and a new earth where... the justice of God will reside" (2 Peter 3:13).
The First Day Part I: Holy Thursday
In Jerusalem, reputedly on Mount Zion, Jesus and his disciples gather in the Upper Room where Jesus gives them and his Church forever the Eucharistic banquet. How I would love to live always in just a corner of that Upper Room. How I would love to see Jesus and his Apostles and to hear his voice. I would gladly serve them at Table and so I do at the Altar. But he calls me (and all disciples) to come closer to him, as did my Patron, St. John the Beloved, and rest upon his chest and listen to his Sacred Heart beat with love for us. This is why I chose the picture of St. John resting upon Jesus’s Heart at the Last Supper for my 25th Anniversary of Priestly Ordination for my holy card remembrance.
As part of climbing the holy Mountain of Easter, one must go up to the Upper Room, the place of the Eucharist, and not just on Holy Thursday. "I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go up to the House of the Lord.’" (Psalm 122) In every Eucharist we ascend spiritually with Christ to worship with him in the Heavenly Liturgy (the eternal worship that fills heaven with joy). We are reminded of this in the Eucharistic Preface where the Priest says "Lift up your hearts!" Every Eucharist, but especially the Sunday Eucharist which is more festive, is meant to elevate our hearts and minds heavenward. This is not by way of escape from the lowly duties of life but rather to inspire us by the love outpoured for us in the Mass, a love we bring into our daily lives.
In the Upper Room, on that night that Jesus gathered with his Apostles for a Passover meal, he also took the role of a servant and washed their feet. The Pope, Bishops, and Priests reenact this on Holy Thursday at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. In Holy Faith’s Tabernacle oratory there is a pitcher, bowl and towel always on display with other devotional art. The Mass calls us to this love of others that serves, as Jesus served. Is not our new Pope Francis showing this by his example? One Seminary Professor once said that the ideal gift for any newly ordained Priest was a pitcher, bowl, and towel. I keep a small version of these on my office desk to remind me that I must lead by loving service.
The Upper Room now transcends time and place and can be found wherever the Eucharist is celebrated.
The First Day Part II: Good Friday
On Good Friday we remember the Crucifixion of Jesus and its meaning for our lives. It is also on our climb up the Mountain of Easter. From the standpoint of our sacred geography, the traditional site of the place where Jesus was crucified and then buried close by (See John 19:41-42) is found in Jerusalem in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In the First Century the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial would have been outside the city of Jerusalem. (See Hebrews 12:13-14; also executions and burials had to be outside the city walls in ancient times) The Emperor Constantine (4th Century) in his embrace of the formerly outlawed Christianity, built a church over the remembered site of Golgotha (in Hebrew), or Calvary (from Latin), where Jesus was crucified. It has been greatly elaborated over the centuries.
Today, when one enters the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one can go up a stairway where a chapel has been built over the supposed place of crucifixion. From the 6th century, this place began to be called Mount Calvary, though it was more a hill.
In our own parish church, as in many Catholic churches, one looks up at a Crucifix overlooking the Altar in the Sanctuary. It would seem that the suffering and death of Christ on the Cross would make us feel "down" rather than lift us up in some way (remember we are supposed to be going up the holy mountain of Easter). But Jesus himself says: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself. (Now this he said, signifying what death he should die.)" (John 12:32-33) Jesus is of course lifted up on the Cross.
The Cross expresses the depths of God’s love for us in the sacrificial love of God’s Son, Jesus, who in becoming human died for us. It is precisely this love that lifts us up from being "down." ("He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm." –Psalm 40:2)
An Anglican Clergyman, Dick Tripp, writes:
"Love is self-giving for the benefit of others and in God’s case the ‘others’ were those who had rebelled against him. The proof of genuine love is not merely a feeling; it is an action....We tend to think of love in emotional terms, but the New Testament concept of love is more focused on active self-giving. And the greater the cost of that self-giving, the greater the love. It was on the night before his crucifixion that Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13). Because there never has been, nor could be, a greater cost than that endured by Father and Son on Calvary, this is what defines for all time the true nature of love—and the true character of God. Pastor and Bible teacher Paul Rees said: ‘The cross does not so much reveal God’s infinite intellect as it reveals his heart.’ Someone else has said, ‘On the Mount of Beatitudes Christ opened his mouth and taught the people: on the mount of Calvary he opened his heart and showed [it to] the people.’"
The crucifixion of Jesus happened "once for all." (Hebrews 10:10) It happened at a certain time and at a certain place, the place perhaps enshrined now in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. But the reality of the Cross also has now transcended time and place. That reality is the love of God "in cruciform" which transcends time and place and so is available everywhere.
The Second Day: Holy Saturday
Yet how do we know that the love of God shown in Christ on the Cross has not come to an end when Christ died on the Cross and was then buried in a tomb? That Christ died and was buried is remembered on the Second Day of the Three Holy Days we are celebrating. This Second Day is often overlooked because there is no liturgical celebration for this day except some of the prayer of the Liturgy of Hours (for example, in our parish there is celebrated Morning Prayer on Holy Saturday).
Spiritual author Christine Valters Paintner writes:
"Before we rush to resurrection we must dwell fully in the space of unknowing, of holding death and life in tension with each other, to experience that liminal place so that we become familiar with its landscape and one day might accompany others who find themselves there and similarly disoriented. The wisdom of the Triduum is that we must be fully present to both the starkness of Friday and to the Saturday space between, before we can really experience the resurrection. We must know the terrible experience of loss wrought again and again in our world so that when the promise of new life dawns we can let it enter into us fully in the space carved by loss."
For me, Holy Saturday represents the aftermath of suffering and death before grief is finished and something new emerges from the ashes or grave of our experience. It is waiting for comfort, healing, new purpose. For we who believe in Christ, it is waiting for his Resurrection. Many people live in this "in between" place at one time or another. It is, then, waiting outside the Tomb.
Holy Saturday is waiting to be lifted up again. Without this hope and trust, we would despair.
I have faith that this waiting "in between" death and life will lead to the Passover Mystery of Christ who passed from death to life and that it will become a reality in my life and in the lives of those I serve. I have faith because I have experienced it so often in my own life and have seen it in the lives of others where I thought grief and suffering would crush them.
The Third Day: The Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday
At the summit of the Triduum and the holy Mountain of Easter is the Resurrection represented by the Empty Tomb. ("But at daybreak on the first day of the week [the women] took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus." Luke 24:1-3 proclaimed at the Easter Vigil)
The Resurrection tells us that the sacrificial love which Christ showed us on the Cross is not defeated by the violence, seeming failure, and death inflicted by the Cross. If Jesus had not risen from the Tomb, it would have appeared that death was stronger than this love. But Christ is Risen and this is what makes all the difference in the world. So we are not exempt from suffering in this world, just as Jesus was not exempt but shared our sufferings and still does. Like him we have our crucifixions and Holy Saturdays–the Resurrection does not take these away but assures us that love will lift us up and renew us in Christ. There is no Cross without the Resurrection and there is no Resurrection without the Cross.
Like a story that comes to the end and yet returns to the beginning, the Cross and Resurrection, this Passover Mystery of Christ’s Dying and Rising, always brings us back to the Upper Room again. That is to say, we remember and we have made present to us the Crucified yet Risen Christ in the Eucharist he gave to us to celebrate in the Upper Room. May we always return and ascend to that Upper Room, lift up the Cross of Christ and receive the Risen Jesus who will lift us up from the Tomb and fill our emptiness with unending, life changing, and victorious love!
The Third Day
The immovable stone tossed aside,
The collapsed linens,
The blinding angel and the chalky guards:
All today like an old wood-cut.
The earthquake on the third day,
The awakened sleeper,
The ubiquitous stranger, gardener, fisherman:
Faded frescoes from a buried world.
Retell, renew the event
In these planetary years,
For we were there and he is here:
It is always the third day.
Our world-prison is split;
An elder charity
Breaks through these modern fates.
Publish it by Telstar,
Diffuse it by mundo vision.
He passes through the shattered concrete slabs,
The vaporized vanadium vaults,
The twisted barbed-wire trestles.
A charity coeval with the suns
Dispels the deep obsessions of the age
And opens heart-room in our sterile dream:
A new space within space to celebrate
With mobiles and new choreographies,
A new time within time to set to music.
— Amos Niven Wilder
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