Saturday, April 16, 2011

Reflecting On Holy Week

Some years ago I ran across this statement from Aeschylus, the 5th century B.C. Greek tragic dramatist: 
"He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep 
pain that will not forget falls drop by drop
upon the heart. And in our despair, against our will
comes wisdom, by the awful grace of God."
(Agamemnon, 2nd Choral Ode)

That hit me right between the eyes, coming as it does from an unusual source. It represents to me a sort of summary of what Lent and Easter, and, indeed, the whole Church year, is about: a summary, really, of what our life is about.

I'm amazed at how often I catch myself being surprised and upset when suffering of hardship intrudes on the ordinariness of my life, as if it were something I should never expect to happen, as if somehow I should be immune to it, most of the time anyway. It's always inconvenient. It never fits my schedule, my timing. It has a way of appearing, unwanted, at the most inopportune times, and I often react angrily, with frustration, and eventually with embarrassment. And it is unrelenting: falling "drop by drop upon the heart."

The unconsoling, damnable truth of human and Christian life is that I can learn, can come to wisdom only through embracing my pain and suffering, and that, not even by my own resources and power, but only "by the awful grace of God."

Those men and women before us and with us now whom we call saints affirm and reaffirm over and over that this is the only way to God. In doing considerable research for a past project on classic and contemporary spiritual writers, I was struck by the absolute consistency of how each person, so different in terms of age, family or country of origin has arrived at virtually the same conclusion: that in order to live in Christ, in life, light and true consciousness, one must abandon, must permanently let go of all that smacks of death, darkness and sin. Permanently -- not just for a little while.

Despite the starkness of that reminder, I'm looking forward to Holy Week in which the community of faith will "enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby [He] has given us life..." (Collect at the Liturgy of the Palms, Palm Sunday) The liturgies this coming week are full of grace-laden droplets which, if I but allow them, can, together with pain and suffering, fall "drop by drop upon the heart." To single out just a few:

PALM SUNDAY:  "...Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering and also share in his resurrection..."

SERVICE OF TENEBRAE ("SHADOWS/DARKNESS"):  "Christ for us became obedient unto death, even death on a cross..."

MAUNDY THURSDAY:  "Do you know what I, your Lord and Master, have done to you? I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done."

GOOD FRIDAY:  "We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come to the whole world."

GREAT VIGIL OF EASTER:  "Through the Paschal mystery...we are buried with Christ by Baptism into his death, and raised with him to newness of life."

SUNDAY OF THE RESURRECTION/EASTER:  "Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection."

A blessed Pascha to each and all!       

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