Once again, we had a beautiful liturgy on Friday evening at St Edward’s. Upon entering, if you came in the main doors, Father Butler had once again assembled items that invited us more deeply into the experience, with all of our senses.
On the table we found symbols of the cross, of crucifixion. As Father said in his homily, there are many representations of the Cross, all slightly different. He spoke beautifully of two images of a crucified Christ, with a smile (a jarring image, isn’t it, but necessary) but I was not able to find pictures of them to share here. In fact this slightly twisted smile of Christ crucified wove beautifully with his homily story, which I will attempt to write about at another time.
Also, I was so happy to encounter a new friend from another parish, who came to attend our service. It was good to be in community with her and her other friend on this day. I look around and know so many people here in our large parish and I can’t believe that last year at this time I knew only one person at St. Edward’s… Father Lanese.
The service began. It always strikes me when the priest and deacons enter in silence and prostrate themselves before the altar. It is the ultimate antithetical symbol, right there with the cross. In our world, as in the culture of Jesus’ time and frankly of all time, power, prestige and position seem to mean everything to the world. To prostrate oneself on the ground before God and congregation is a symbol of real humility.
Do I think that every priest or deacon feels this sublime sense of humility every Good Friday? Maybe they do and maybe they don’t; I would think that one has many feelings in that position.
Why wouldn’t they struggle with their humility any less than the rest of us? After all, no matter the designation or ordination, we are all human. Yet, we must all empty ourselves and bow down before God. This is life’s work.
The readings were so well done and the choir was outstanding. I am always moved by how the RCIA candidates carry the cross in when that time comes. It made me cry a little and I was aware of the tears of others. Behold, behold – the wood of the Cross – the songs of the hymn are still in my head along with the reverent and slow process of carrying this cross.
Our service progressed and we got to the point of venerating the Cross. And suddenly something happened to to me… I felt strange and unsettled. My usual feeling of some kind of connection to God seemed to suddenly snap and go dark. I have re-written this sentence about 22 times now and no matter how I say it, I feel like it sounds so silly and self-indulgent. I don’t know how else to say it, so if that is how it sounds, so be it.
Has this ever happened to you? It has happened to me, but not so profoundly, or at least not so profoundly and sharply. God may appear faint and distant at times, but this felt distinctly different. And not good. In a rare moment, I decided that I might detachedly observe what this was and just go with it.
The feeling, or rather non-feeling was disturbing. It felt kind of like someone left in the middle of a conversation and I was left there alone in the dark. I left church feeling confused and irritable.
Perhaps I was in the Tomb? I don’t know. Again, I just tried to go with it.
At 11pm, I returned to church for Evening Prayer. At about 10:55 actually, I entered the semi-dark sanctuary, with our Cross at the foot of the altar, draped in red. There were 5 other people there, including Father Butler.
These two nights of Compline or Evening prayer have reminded me of how much I long for this kind of community prayer. If you have never attended, I would simply say that it is worth your time next time the opportunity presents itself.
Somehow, even in my tomb, a small chink of light came in, almost imperceptible. Some tears began to flow and while I still felt distant, I did not feel lost.
Which leads me to the long winded point of this piece… How do we enter the tomb and stay there? As if the Cross were not hard enough, the tomb is potentially worse. Kill me and get it over with leads to this place of… Well this place of nothing.
We as Catholics, as Christians live in the hope that we know what will come next. We know how the story ends. Yet we must relive this story all the time as our lives constantly leads us to crucifixions and subsequent resurrections. Over and over and over again.
Then this morning I read this piece by Rose Marie Berger, someone that I have had the opportunity to hear speak. What she remembers of her childhood Good Friday to Easter experiences is worth your time I think.
May this time in the tomb teach us, as Berger tells us in her writing…
Mother Teresa wrote, “the agony of desolation is so great” and “[God] is destroying everything in me.” Until finally, after 16 years, something changed.
Mother Teresa took on a discipline of “smiling at God” in the emptiness. Later, she was able to write, “I have come to love the darkness.”
Today, I pray to smile at God and learn to love the darkness. Check back with me- I have the feeling it will be even harder than I think.
And I think it will be pretty hard.