Journeying through Holy Week

What distinguished Christian religious observance at one time were whether it was a day of fasting or not. There are a few remnants of this to be recognised in such things as “Ember Days” (still indicated on some Anglican calendars) or those who recall the pre-Vatican II Roman practice of not eating meat on Fridays (what had been a weekly observance of Good Friday).  Perhaps these days Christians are most familiar with fasting indicating a particular religious day or season from the other monotheistic faiths: Islam and Judaism. Fasting marks Ramadan and dietary restrictions dictate the faith observance of religious Jews. What we consider as “Holy Week” was actually marked by a specific fast separating it from the Lenten Fast. Fasting intensified the spiritual life and prepared the soul for divine revelation (easily seen with Muslim friends in the sunrise to sunset fasts). Being prepared in mind and body was important to engage in the resurrection celebration of Easter, if not that night-of-nights on which “all this would pass away” and Christ would return (read St. Paul’s letters and his assumption that Christ would be returning during the life-time of the first Christians). Little wonder that in the Early Church, surrounded by a culture of fasting with regard to religion, and through the ages, the spiritual experience was focused through dietary experiences. Well, we still do it today, except for other reasons. Health and beauty dominate the sales of cleansing fasts (for a fee), wellness treatments, and specialty diets to detoxify or improve one’s health.

When I was at seminary, I would fast from Maundy Thursday to the First Eucharist of Easter. I tried to do this my first years in the parish, but the energy output for leading the roster of liturgies quickly modified this practice (so as not to collapse by Easter Sunday!)  I do recall how the absence of being focused on eating (I love to eat!) caused me to engage fully in contemplating the mystery of redemption, guided by the liturgies of the Triduum (the “3 days”).  However you decide to intensify your engagement of the paschal mystery, our journey of Holy Week, having begun with Palm/Passion Sunday can, irregardless of any dietary practices, set apart and deepen our awe of the paschal mystery and God’s Grace in the death and resurrection of Christ.

We began this week with the schizophrenic experience of initially shouting “Hosanna in the highest” and later, the same crowd screaming “Crucify him!”  The eventual historicization of the paschal mystery into distinct events (triumphal entry into Jerusalem, last supper, crucifixion, resurrection) can act like a guided meditation, although for early Christians, there was only that “night of nights” which would be when Christ came again (take note when you hear the Exsultet chant (a very early liturgical text) at the Vigil of Easter and the repetition of the words “on this night”).  While being historicized might have dampened that sense of immanent passing through the night from death to life, from old to new, and entering a new creation in the resurrected Christ, the liturgies of this week, including Night Prayers (complines), Tenebrae (waiting), and the marking of the events of the passion (the Triduum), can deepen our communion with Christ. It means our discipleship.

The marking of this week, whether by a special fast or the sacrifice of time and convenience to participate in the directed meditation that this week’s liturgies offer, provides an opportunity to be drawn into the ministry of Jesus and the discipleship to which we are called. A discipleship that recognizes those who are hungry, lack resources, or live in emotional turmoil, along with others who “have everything” but have lost their souls to consumerism or self-aggrandizement. May the days ahead, having “entered” the passion on Sunday, guide you to questions of discipleship and sharing the paschal mystery. Dying to self and rising to new missions and ministries. It may take withdrawal (like a fast) or giving up (taking time for prayer and worship), but always with engagement of Christ’s mission to recreate creation to be the paradise God intends.

This message was written by Pastor Eric Dyck for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.