in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Crossing the Red Sea... Easter Triduum

'You must come out of Egypt and, when the land of Egypt lies behind you, you must cross the Red Seas if you are to sing the first song...'
Origen, Commentary on the Song of Songs

Exodus 12
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt,
"This month shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.
Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month they shall take every man a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household...
They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.
In this manner you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's Passover.
For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.

John 13
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,
rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel.
Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded.
He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?"
Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand."
Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me."

This is the night when first you saved our ancestors:
You freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.
This is the night when the pillar of fire
destroyed the darkness of sin!
This is the night when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin
and freed from all defilement
Are restored to grace and grow together in holiness...
Oh Miracle of your wonderful care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave
You gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam destroyed completely by the death of Christ!
O happy fault -
Which gained for us so great a Redeemer!
The Exsultet (Easter Hymn)
Hæc nox est, in qua primum patres nostros, fílios Israel edúctos de Ægypto, 
Mare Rubrum sicco vestígio transíre fecísti.
Hæc ígitur nox est,
quæ peccatórum ténebras colúmnæ illuminatióne purgávit.
Hæc nox est, quæ hódie per univérsum mundum in Christo credéntes, a vítiis sæculi et calígine peccatórum segregátos,
reddit grátiæ, sóciat sanctitáti.
O mira circa nos tuæ pietátis dignátio!
O inæstimábilis diléctio caritátis:
ut servum redímeres, Fílium tradidísti!
O certe necessárium Adæ peccátum,
quod Christi morte delétum est!
O felix culpa,
quæ talem ac tantum méruit habére Redemptórem!

Unforgivably, I have just finished reading Patrick Leigh Fermor's 'Time of Gifts' - it has taken me 50 years to do this. As I finished this beautiful story of a young man who set out in 1933 to walk across Europe from London to Constantinople (as he calls it) I was filled with many mixed emotions. Sadness that I hadn't read it 30 years ago, joy that I hadn't and could now enjoy it at the age at which PLF wrote it - the memoirs were written 30 years after the events depicted and the author deftly combines the wisdom of maturity with the passions of his youth.
So why do my thoughts turn to this book during Holy Week? Well, for me Holy Week, the Paschal mystery, the Vernal cycle and Passover are all part of a deeper turn in the state of affairs that only occurs once or twice a year. We can call it 'the miracle of spring' but it is really an insight into the deeper forces of our destinies and lives. The church, ancient and new, has of course always recognised this. As I said in my post earlier this week, the only way to really explain it is to participate in the full liturgies of Holy Week...
Tonight we shall begin the first of these three great nights of mystery that essentially go back to humanity's first religious longings (some scholars suggest the movement of the blessed sacrament from the main shrine to the altar of repose reflects ancient Egyptian liturgies that pre-date Christianity). I have included above two passages from the readings for Maundy Thursday ('the mass of the Lord's supper') as well as an extract from Saturday's great 'Easter Hymn' - the Exsultet. A bit premature you might say, but the three great days we now celebrate all recognise the one essential mystery.These liturgies have grown slowly over two millennia and contain within them such a complexity and richness of meaning it would take a three year theology course to unpack them fully (if at all). Yet, as PLF recognised, standing on the bridge between Slovakia and Hungary at the end of his book, watching the Paschal full moon rise slowly over the Danube as the town folk prepared for the joy of Easter after the austerities of Lent, this is a unique moment. We stand on the edge of two worlds - in psychological terms we stand at the edge of ego as we gaze into that which is beyond our control - which is both beautiful and terrible...

This is my first Easter in London for many years and it is turning out to be one of those once in a decade Easters (last year I told friends we had our once in ten years summer... this year looks like being our once in ten years Easter!). The days are so bright the sun hurts and yet the cool breeze is making the spring blossom and green last in perfect glory. Each night the full Easter moon hangs heavy in the sky and on Tuesday I remembered our Jewish ancestors eating their lamb and girding their loins as the mysterious Destroying Angel of the Lord was about to smite the Egyptian first born. For at the heart of these two great lunar festivals - Easter and Passover - lies a great mystery. The mystery of our God who holds life and death in the balance and by forces essentially unknown to us can gift us the great joy of Easter morning after the terrors of Calvary. PLF wanted to find a deeper Europe lying beneath the crass commercialism of twentieth century culture. Easter, Holy Week and Passover remind us of that deeper culture... and our ultimate destiny.

Once again I am sure our eyes will be on Rome this Thursday and the actions of Pope Francis. This extraordinary man who surprised us all last year with the washing of the feet ceremony somehow perfectly embodied Christ's message in the second reading from John above - that at the heart of the Christian message lies humility. No matter how grand, learned, powerful or rich we are, we must all ultimately fall beneath the power of one greater... the mysterious God who makes our world. And as the pride of the enemies of Israel is smote in the passage from Exodus so we are asked in the next three days to place our egos at the feet of the Destroying Angel so that like Pharoah's army it too will be drowned in the sea of God's compassion.

One of the delights of writing this blog has been responses from all over the world. I am aware that as I post this my friends in India and the Far East are about to celebrate their Maundy Thursday liturgies and my friends in the States and all points West are just waking up. I wish all who read this, wherever you are, a very Happy Holy Week and Easter and will be praying for you all over the next three days. I also ask you to pray for me... and especially at this time for the people of Ukraine, its leaders and world leaders meeting to negotiate peace in that special country.

God bless



No comments:

Post a Comment