“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the King of the Universe, though he was in the “form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” This death, the one that tore the Temple veil in two and re-oriented the entire universe, is one that we remember each and every year in what’s known as Holy Week. The main event is the Triduum Sacrum, the three sacred days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.
Maundy Thursday is a celebration of remembrance. On the night before he died, Our Lord Jesus Christ celebrated the Feast of the Passover. All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again. Together with his disciples, he gave thanks to God for the startling deliverance of God’s people in their flight from Egypt. And he commanded us to remember this Mandatum Novum, this New Commandment, in a feast of bread and wine, in a gift of humble service to one another. We wash one another’s feet to follow Christ’s example of selfless love. We partake of the Holy Eucharist, our Never-Feast wherein we imagine & remember the world as it could be, rather than what it is. But this joyous celebration is tinged with sadness – though this banquet remembers and re-members our community as participants in the Body of Christ, by the end of the service, we remember, too, the guards who invaded the garden and took Jesus away, the man who betrayed him with a kiss. The altar is stripped of all its finery as the clergy solemnly remove each piece. The congregation intones Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses.” The consecrated Host is processed ceremonially to a new place, decorated to resemble the Garden where Jesus awaited that arrest. “Can you not stay awake even one hour?” Jesus asked. We answer by our presence, praying with him in this garden, hour by hour. And if we cannot pray, it is a time to simply be – to sit in the presence of Eternity in the knowledge that we are not alone. And neither is Jesus.
Good Friday is the center of the three sacred days, the Empire Strikes Back of our story. When we pick up after our cliffhanger of the arrest, hiding out in the garden, waiting for the bad news that will surely come, we enter the church in silence. We stand together and read the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John. We play the role of the crowd in the story. “The majority / does not make the vote correct. / Give us Barabbas.” We are the majority, the ones sufficiently frightened by the change Jesus brings to look the other way while the Republic becomes the Empire, while the Death Eaters take over the Ministry. Good Friday is our opportunity to remember our faults, even as we pray for God “graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross.” We kneel before that Cross because by Christ’s death upon that cross, he has redeemed the world.
The trilogy concludes with Easter, the triumphant celebration that Christ not only died because of and to redeem our sins, but that he rose again. Not a thin, listless waif raised to life by a Resurrection Stone (designed by Death as a trick), not awakened by a Lesser Restoration spell, but a strong victory of Deep Magic over the cruel vindictiveness of human sin. We commemorate this most holy night in vigil and prayer by walking with Christ. We kindle the new fire, the Paschal candle, the light shining in a darkness that shall not overcome. We join our voices with heavenly hosts in the ancient chant of the Exultet. We hear the record of God’s saving deeds in history in stories from the Hebrew bible. We stand with those who are buried with Christ in baptism as we renew our baptismal vows, assured that we who have been buried with him shall also be raised with him. And as the blazing light of victory rises before us, we proclaim “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” “The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!”