ARCHBISHOP JEROME E. LISTECKI
As we begin the triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday the Easter Vigil), we travel with Jesus in obedience to His Father in order to fulfill the mission of restoring the kingdom lost through disobedience. We have an advantage over the disciples: we know the ending of this story. But we must avoid racing to the empty tomb before we understand and integrate the cost of the journey.
On Holy Thursday, Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples. I doubt that they realized how monumental this meal was. Imagine your father, mother or grandparents sharing a final meal with the family. They know that this would be their last and they would want to impart their hopes and desires. They would want leave something memorable. They would want to demonstrate their love. This final meal on Holy Thursday with his disciples captured every aspect of that final goodbye.
In our personal lives, we try to capture the words of those loved ones, remembering them and holding them in our hearts. We often say “Remember when mom or dad said this,” and share them at times of family gatherings. The words of Jesus, “To love one another,” were something that Jesus always held before his disciples. Now, at the last supper, Jesus will give them his very self. Take and eat, this is my body. Take and drink, this is my blood. At this meal he would institute the “priesthood,” commanding them to “do this in memory of me.”
In this manner, he would be with his followers forever. It is always interesting that St. John the Evangelist, in his depiction of the last supper, emphasizes an action that Jesus performed for his disciples. He washed their feet. A simple act of hospitality performed in servitude. This act of service is a sign of submission to the plan of the Father for all who will follow Jesus. Peter’s objection to Christ’s act of washing his feet, “Master you will never wash my feet,” is met with a rebuke, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” A reminder that Jesus came to cleanse us of our sins and model for us the care we must have for our brothers and sisters.
At this, his Last Supper, he gives himself completely, he establishes the priesthood through his apostles to carry on his sacrifice and he models for us the action of service. We need to remind ourselves at the Holy Thursday celebration that this was his bequest given to us. He knows his death is imminent. In the gospel of St. Luke Jesus, it states: “For I tell you that I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” At the end of the service, the altar is stripped bare and the Eucharist is removed. This is a symbol of the “emptiness” we experience as believers as the Lord begins his journey to Calvary.
Good Friday is the only day in the entire liturgical year when the Holy Sacrifice is not celebrated. The ceremony is divided into three parts: the service of the Word, the proclamation of Christ’s Passion, the veneration of the cross, and the communion service with the bread and wine consecrated at the Holy Thursday service the night before. Good Friday allows us to enter into the suffering of Jesus. We need to be reminded of the cost of our salvation.
The Passion is usually dramatically proclaimed; it is sometimes sung with the parts divided. We are able to concentrate on the movement of Jesus, realizing he is totally innocent and suffering for only one reason: to redeem us from our sin. Here he is the “suffering servant,” abandoned by those who claim to have loved him. And he was crucified between two thieves — one recognizing Jesus’ innocence and the other looking only to save himself. The words of the good thief are echoed in the hymn: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” I pray like the good thief for his mercy and forgiveness in my life. Jesus was condemned by the authorities in the world to fulfill the will of the Father. (“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that all who believe in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” John 3:16)
It is hard to imagine the incredible suffering that Jesus accepted in the scourging, the crowning with thorns, the carrying of the cross, being stripped of his clothes, the nailing to the cross and his death on the cross. That’s the physical, but think of the psychological effects, the loneliness, the abandonment and the rejection. Why didn’t he just give up? Instead, he willingly suffered for you and I. One hymn which has the haunting melody of “Were you there when they crucified my Lord … it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”
The cross is processed in and three times the procession stops to honor the cross. It is ironic that the cross is a sign of death and destruction, yet when Jesus embraces the cross, it is transformed into the greatest sign of “love.” The entire congregation is invited to approach and honor the cross of Jesus. I observe many coming to touch, kiss or bow, venerating the cross. I know some approach the cross to join their suffering to his, I know that others need his love and mercy, and still others seek his hope for reconciliation and eternal life. We live because he suffered and died.
The third part of the service is communion: his body and blood given to us and joining our lives to is. Although through our sins we have abandoned our Lord, he never abandons us and offers himself so that we might be transformed by his sacrificial love.
On Saturday, the Easter Vigil begins in the night. It seems that all is lost. In prayer, we turn to God to make sense of our loss. We return to archetypal symbols of light (fire), word and water. We listen to the Lord’s revelation in the journey of the chosen to the promised land and his pledge to send a messiah. The darkened Church is prepared to receive the light of Christ, which is symbolized by the Easter Candle. As the light makes its way up the aisle, the Church begins to glow from the presence of the light, Christ’s light. In the Easter Vigil liturgy, we connect the dots, understanding that this is the long-awaited Messiah whose message of God’s mercy, forgiveness and love is found in the person of Jesus. He has conquered sin and death. He is life and, for us, life eternal. When those we love die, they are not lost but join to the life of Christ, who is our hope and salvation.
The sacraments of initiation are celebrated (baptism, confirmation and Eucharist) We celebrate our baptism and renew our promises. John baptized with water but Jesus baptizes in the Holy Spirit, joining us together to him. Members of the community are confirmed with the chrism, becoming full members of the faith. Then the sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated and the Eucharist is offered, joining us in an intimate communion with Jesus.
The resurrection of Jesus must still be understood by his followers; that is why Jesus gives us the Church. Through the sacraments administered by the Church, we continue to proclaim the “paschal mystery” (the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus). This is the way to enter into our life which finds its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ.
As we celebrated the triduum we challenge ourselves:
On Holy Thursday to contemplate his bequest, the gift of self in the Eucharist, andthe establishment of the priesthood to continue his presence through the sacrifice of the Mass;
On Good Friday, we realize the debt Christ paid. He redeemed us. He paid the price for our sins. And transformed a sign of death, the cross, into the greatest sign of love; and
On Saturday, the Easter Vigil, we celebrate not only his life but the continued grace through the sacraments which continuously proclaims the pascal mystery (his passion, death and resurrection).
We realize God’s love and mercy through His Son. May God grant you a Blessed Easter.