We are entering into the richest of seasons as we move at the first of the month into Holy Week--Pascha from the word Passover—when Israel and then early Christians celebrated the passover from death to new life, from slavery to freedom found in the transforming presence of God. The very heart of our Christian faith is found here. Deeper understanding that makes way for transformation is available to those who desire. The possibility of the transformation not only of our personal lives, but hand-in-hand with them, our world is available here. Are you ready?
Together we will keep the feast. In her book The Three Day Feast, Theologian Gail Ramshaw notes that there is a deep truth to this idea of keeping a feast, keeping the festival that we call Holy Week, particularly with its culmination in the Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter or Paschal Vigil. We may mark the solstice, celebrate Thanksgiving, and observe the anniversary of a death. But to keep is to hold something close, preserve it, protect it. Festivals such as this need to be “kept” or their influence will give way to the complications of our lives, to the muddle of necessities that claim our energies.
If we do not keep in our minds and hearts the birthday of a child or a mother’s day of death, these events will fade, their importance to us will be lost to us. But if we keep them, we find that they keep us! Their values will remain in the community and enrich our lives together. Their ideals will inspire and their hope will sustain. We keep family dinner for the same reason we keep a festival—so that our communities like our families might be shaped toward collaboration, mutual support and life-giving love.
So let me invite you to a feast that is the water and bread we need for life. Let me invite you to a feast that has been around since the beginnings of the church precisely because it dishes up the Christian life and the fullness of Christian hope in ways that engage the whole community. This feast is so lavish it takes three days to fit it all in! Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Saturday evening Easter Vigil.
The Three Days together serve as a primer for the whole Christian life. The betrayal and failure and disillusionment of Maundy Thursday’s upper room supper captures our own experience, yet a way is provided to cross from death to life—much like the ancient Israelites before us—in the commandment to love one another. We know too the darkness and injustice we encounter on Good Friday. Though we devoutly gather to recall our Lord’s passion, we celebrate the wonder and mystery of the cross as the sign of the world’s redemption. From this cruel cross flows forgiveness, healing and salvation. An instrument of torture and death becomes a tree of life, and all the faithful are invited to bow before this great mystery of our faith. Only with the insight and experience gained from the previous days, are we ready to encounter the radical hopes of Pascha, passover, Easter.
These are days filled with images, sights and sounds and activities that are especially hospitable to children—there is movement here, greater informality, a healthy dose of the stories that define who we are as a people of faith, that keep us. There is fire in these days! Quite literally the fire with which we push back the darkness at the beginning of the Easter Vigil service, and the fire that is kindled in our hearts through these liturgies that were first practiced by the earliest Christian churches as the blossoming of the year and the admission of the Church’s newest members into the full life of the faith community.
Throughout the Three Days we are not becoming biblical people in their time and place. Rather we are becoming more and more our baptized selves. We are practicing what it means to be the body of Christ here and now. We are drawing deeper and deeper into the freedom we know as Easter—when the stone of our own hearts is rolled away and we find a new life, a freedom to love and forgive and live with purpose and clarity, to live in the world in ways that allow others to live as well—with justice and generosity and grace and joy.
And this feast is only the beginning! It sends us out into the 50 days of Easter in which we can further explore the terrain of this resurrection life rooted deeply in the waters of our baptism.
Chuck Sigars is currently an elder at St. Andrew and a newspaper columnist and author.