Sunday, April 09, 2006

Palm Sunday

I have remembered bits of information bouncing around in my head that I cannot confirm, and some of them have to do with Lent, the 40 days before Easter, which, if you stop and calculate them, are obviously not 40 days at all, but longer than that. One explanation (Thomas Merton's, I believe) is that the Sundays of Lent are excluded from the count because, much as Lent is a season of penance and penitence, Sundays are the day Christians celebrate the Good News, the Resurrection, the hope in Christ. It is not a day, on the liturgical calendar, for mourning.

"On the liturgical calendar," because liturgy, leitourgia, is the work of the people, and the liturgical calendar, the church's calendar, is the people's calendar. Not in the Congregational (Protestant) v. episcopal (Roman Catholic hierarchy) sense, but in the sense that Augustine knew, when it was the people who pressed him into service as their bishop. "The people" in the sense of the gathered body of believers who consider themselves corporately as part of a larger body, the "body of Christ," not as part of an institution, "the [fill in the blank] Church." The work of the people is the work and worship of the Church, guided and directed by God, led and inspired by the Holy Spirit, founded and taught by Jesus. The Church lives after Easter, and so the Church corporately does not mourn.

But the Church liturgy has no place for mourning; except during Holy Week. Lent is a season of penance, created in a time when worship and church and life were seamless, so that the flow from personal penance to public worship back to personal penance, was a natural one. It was a time of preparation for the great celebration of Easter, the communal and corporate memory of the reason the Church is present. Still, the liturgical calendar reflected the seasons: the coming of the light as the darkness was growing in December: Advent. The celebration of the Light of the World from Christmas to Epiphany, in the darkness of the year. The winter months of Epiphany giving way to preparation for spring that are Lent into Easter. The celebration of spring in Easter, and then the months of the Church itself, in the Season of Pentecost, until the year came round again, and the Church started a cycle of birth and renewal and life to give its corporate life structure and reliability, and ordinary life even richer meaning.

Life is not all celebration and elation, though; part of life is mourning. The Church, corporately, needed its acknowledged time of morning. It worshipped, after all, a crucified God. It needed to acknowledge the crucifixion, in order to enjoy the Resurrection. And so we find ourselves again, in Holy Week, trying to conduct, or just prepare to conduct, the ritual of mourning. And we take three days almost out of the calendar altogether: the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. We silence the music this week; we strip the altar and remove all colors, leaving only black. We bring the world of the Church almost to a halt. This morning we praised the coming of the King in triumph into Jerusalem, and the very same morning mocked him, and spat on him, and demanded his crucifixion. Now we are ready to mourn him.

We will try again to recall the last meal; try to recall the agony of his dying. We will try to recreate, as a community, that time and those events, so we can feel them, so we can mourn our God whom we helped crucify. Were you there? Sometimes it causes me to tremble.....

Christians around the world will be trying again, this week, to prepare ourselves for what must be done, to take it seriously enough to know it is serious, to accept the paradox of a God who can be crucified, to try to grieve for him, so the reality will become a little more real to us. Were you there? Peter was, and three times denied him. But if he hadn't, would he have lived to be the rock, the petros, upon which the Church would be founded? It is mysteries like that, that Christians this week will be pondering. Questions like that prick and fuel and disturb and quiet, our mourning.

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