It's not often that you plan for a service to last three hours, but sometimes you do plan for exactly that on Good Friday. Jack Spong returned today, to offer meditations at six half-hour services from noon to 3 p.m.
He was in fine form, and is preaching/teaching from his forthcoming book on the Gospel of John. We delved into the symbolism and the "thesis" of that Gospel all afternoon.
A discovery for me, was that reading Mary's presence at the crucifixion as a symbol (John is the only Gospel to include her at the cross) gives incredible meaning to the words: "Woman, here is your son." Words directed at the elusive, unnamed "beloved disciple", whoever he is and whatever he signifies.
It was a low church service for this solemn Fast Day. The organ was on, the bells rang to cue the start and the end (and perhaps once in the middle due to programmer error...), but local tradition always supersedes denominational tradition, and here the local traditions of the of the parish piled on fast and furious.
We were well represented with rectors of the parish. The present rector; the preacher, Jack Spong; the author of one of the hymns sung at the service, "Lord Christ, when first thou cam'st to earth", Walter Russell Bowie; and even the present rector's predecessor, who situated himself near the choir for the service.
These days are, of course, inherently conservative, liturgically. Look at Tenebrae. Who can understand it? What is it? Where does it come from? Just try to explain it to a Presbyterian, and you'll see what I mean.
So it should be no surprise that in these days, we do things as we've always done them, or at least, the best that we remember them, and to the best of our ability.
Who put that cross there? What does it mean?
Today, Jesus' cross stands between us and the Eucharist. Maybe that's why it's leaning on the altar rail (I think I've even seen it blocking the sanctuary entrance in other places).
But for the first time early this morning, I did receive communion from the reserved Sacrament. It's an interesting experience. The residue of the previous night's Eucharistic celebration lingers, but only in the memory. The bulk of the church itself is devastated. There is no cloth, no ornament, no light. And we occupy this strange area of circular logic, which crops up so often this week. Which Jesus are we eating? Well, the Resurrected Jesus who is fully present, of course. But weren't we contemplating him in prayer the garden? And doesn't he hang on the cross later today? The chronology is screwy.
But one thing has made a bit of sense this week, it continues to do so, and it will culminate rather gloriously at the end of the month. In the Daily Office readings, if one reads the entire Psalter in a month, one finishes the Psalter on Easter Day.
The dark, gritty bit that we're going through right now suits us just fine, and the Psalter will conclude tomorrow and the next day (twice; you read the "thirtieth day" portion on the thirty-first day as well).
But that's not all. I really can't recommend The St. Bede's Breviary highly enough for praying the Daily Office via an online text. The changes to the office that are made in Holy Week are stark:
(full info on the changes)
- Offices begin with the Psalms (and antiphons if used) except for Compline; Compline begins with the Confession and Absolution, then jumps to the Psalms.
- All Gloria Patris are omitted.
- A penitential responsory replaces the 1st canticle at Morning and Evening Prayer
- All hymns are omitted
- The Offices conclude early. After the Gospel/second canticle of Morning and Evening Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and the Collect of the Day are said at which point the Office ends. At Noon Prayer the Lord’s Prayer and Collect of the Day complete the Office immediately after the Psalm(s). At Compline, the Nunc Dimittis without Antiphon follows the Psalms, then the Lord’s Prayer and Collect conclude the hour.
Even the ever-familiar Magnificat takes on a different tone when the office around it shifts a bit. This is a wonderful tradition to know about, and to take part in.
File that under tricks of the trade. Like, how to hold a thurible (working on it), or how to program the bells (via graphing calculator?!), or how to feed a choir so no one faints (working on it)
. . . or how Jesus died so that we too can give our lives away fully to others, and we can be most fully ourselves.
To say it another way, so we can all be most fully alive.
Even when everything is stripped down, and sometimes because of that stripping down, we focus on what's present, what still remains -- what is just as effectual and real as ever -- out of God's abundance and grace.
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