We are a people shaped by the Paschal Mystery:
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Those familiar words flow easily off of our tongues. The challenge is for them to become not only what we profess with our lips but how we live our lives, in our vocation to become an Easter people.
This Holy Week we will be finding some new ways to proclaim this old truth, because the fact of the matter is that God is (still) making all things new, even as the Church takes a break from gathering for public worship. It was never our public worship that made Easter true. Rather, because the Lord is risen indeed, we gathered joyfully to make our song and to give thanks. We will do that again. But for now, our buildings will be empty. Like the empty tomb.
For as long as I’ve been ordained (since 1988) we have been talking about joining God in the neighborhood. That’s not a new thing! When Hathy and I were living in New Britain, Connecticut and attending St. Mark’s Church in the early 1990s (I was serving as an ecumenical campus minister at the time) the sign on their doors said, “the worship has ended, the service now begins.” One of St. Mark’s key ministries at that time was with and to people with HIV/AIDs. We have been sealed and marked and claimed as Christ’s own for this work. We are called to let that Paschal Mystery shape our lives, even as we are physically apart from one another. We are invited to learn and re-learn that the Church is not a building. The Church is a people, a people sent out to do the work God has given us to do.
For many years now, I’ve been fascinated by Holy Saturday. As a parish priest, there are so many liturgies to plan for and by Easter morning when we proclaim that Christ is risen, often the clergy need a nap. Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday (often more than one liturgy), Easter Vigil, and then Easter morning. And then our Bishop rightly reminds us to keep up the Momentum the following week and through the fifty days! Fair enough.
But tucked in there is a little one-page liturgy that I used to use with the altar guild and those who would be participating in the Easter Vigil later on Holy Saturday. I’d plan to take a few minutes for us all to catch our breaths and then the altar guild would decorate and we’d do a run through of the Vigil on Saturday morning. You can find the liturgy on page 283 of
The Book of Common Prayer
. Check it out if you don’t already know it.
It’s small, but mighty. It’s totally unpretentious; in fact it’s probably the most humble little liturgy in the entire BCP. The rubric at the top of the page reminds us that there is no celebration of the Eucharist on this day between the observance of the crucifixion and the Vigil.
Holy Saturday is about waiting.
A simple collect asks God that “we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life.” Readings, a brief homily, and then “in place of the Prayers of the People, the Anthem, “In the midst of life.” Then the Lord’s Prayer and the Grace. That’s it.
The Anthem comes from the Burial Office – you’ve got to turn the page to 492 to get there.
In the midst of life we are in death;
from whom can we seek help?
From you alone, O Lord…
On the Sabbath day. It seems to me to be an appropriate metaphor for this Easter in particular. We know about death. We see too much of it in our lives. Yet we live in hope for new life, for the promise of the empty tomb. We are shaped by the good news of Easter and called to live toward that love that never fails.
But so much of our lives is in-between. Waiting for the school bus. Waiting for it to be safe enough to re-open our churches. Waiting. Waiting. And waiting can raise our anxiety, and make us fearful. Yet we wait in hope. In the midst of life we are in death, but we know where to look for help. And so we wait for the coming of the third day, so that we might rise with him to newness of life. We can practice waiting toward Easter. We can practice waiting in ways that open our hearts to the new thing God is calling us toward, rather than the old thing which allows us to return to “normal.”
In the midst of anxiety, and fear, and grief and loss, it is not only God who is doing a new thing. I’ve watched my parish clergy friends from the vantage point of diocesan ministry with a whole range of emotions these past weeks. Admiration and respect for risking new things like Facebook Live and Zoom. Concern for their temptation to over-function in a time when we need to be preparing for a marathon, not a sprint. Awareness that we don’t do grief very well in our culture – or even really in the Church. But that this is a time of incredible grief and loss. And of trauma, which affects us each differently. My own personal coping mechanisms: prayer, getting enough sleep, getting some exercise, blogging and especially cooking don’t seem to be enough. Or maybe more accurately are only just barely enough for one day at a time.
Holy Saturday waiting.
We don’t know where we will be in July, or in October. No one is sure how far out to cancel things. But here is the truth – the truth of embracing the Paschal Mystery: we
know. We are only now more acutely aware of what is always true: that we get one day at a time. Going back to the Sinai Wilderness, God has been teaching God’s people that lesson again and again with the manna. Jesus taught God’s people to pray: Give us this day, our daily bread…
We are not God. That job is taken. That we are not masters of even our own lives. We have a sense of what to say in our congregations on Good Friday. And we have a sense of what to say on Easter morning. But right now we are living in-between. We are waiting.
May that short, simple liturgy point us toward waiting in hope, and with courage, and with love.
All will be well. And all manner of things shall be well.