Gospel Reflection for Triduum and the Easter Octave
Triduum is the smallest and mightiest liturgical season of the whole year. It's small in that it only lasts 3 days, yet it is a mighty opportunity for the human person to connect with Jesus Christ -- the humble, human person named Jesus of Nazareth.
A couple of years ago, I found out that I have Aspergers' Syndrome. When I shared this with my confessor, I was told that I experience every splinter of the Cross and every joy of the Resurrection. Since my diagnosis, I have let this syndrome define me until this Triduum when I confessed this limiting belief in the Sacrament of Reconciliation on Good Friday with my same beloved confessor. I wanted to begin to see myself as "differently-abled", rather than "disabled." When I returned home after claiming the true freedom of my identity as a redeemed, forgiven, daughter of God, I learned that it was Autism Awareness Day. Details matter to Our Lord and He has been speaking in many ways through the emotions of this Triduum season. Though I can be overwhelmed with emotion, I can also be guided by them. For some time, I've thought about writing about how Aspergers has informed my prayer life. So, this is a great season to tap into some of those insights.
I am a kinesthetic learner and learn best by walking the walk. I may not know what questions to ask until I'm in the middle of a process. I am a practicing Catholic, which means I'm learning, growing, and falling on my journey with Christ each day. I am practicing for the day when I will get to meet the Risen Christ face-to-face in Heaven. I'm also practicing each day so that I'm ready when I'm called to witness, teach, model, or even die like a champion for the faith.
As a lifelong athlete, practices were sensory experiences of seeing, touching, and hearing. We had to know what the ball or club felt like in our hands. We grounded ourselves on the court or course so we were present, relaxed, and flexible in our own skin. We connected with teammates and learned how we impacted one another and how we could help one another win.
Though each year we know what to expect on Easter Sunday, we still make time for practice and kinesthetics in the three days prior:
The Church gathers for a festive Mass to celebrate the Last Supper of our Lord. Jesus spent years with His dear friends as they traveled miles together physically and spiritually. What it must have been like to eat, drink, sleep, laugh, and cry with Jesus. To learn from the Master who knew each of them better than they knew themselves. Jesus knew that this was their last meal together before He departed this world. He wanted to make this dinner special so that each of His Apostles would remember it until He returned in glory. The decorations would be charming. The mood would be sentimental. Jesus would savor these moments breaking bread with those He loved most in this world. He wanted to show them how much He loved them by washing their feet and giving them His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Institution of the Eucharist. He knew they would have difficulty understanding His heavy heart that night. He was present in the celebratory meal while also preparing them for what was to come in a couple of hours. I love this beautiful Liturgy as Fulton Sheen says, "The greatest love story of all time can be found in a small white Host." The Eucharist is not bread, but rather THE Bread of Life - Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ fully present with us. He knew He was not going to be with us in the flesh any longer, but He never wanted to say goodbye. So, He is fully present under the disguise of bread and wine, that which we call the Eucharistic species.
After the Meal, we get to experience the humble act of washing others' feet and accepting the gift of having our feet washed. The average person experiencing this ritual today would have relatively clean feet since we bathe regularly and do not walk around dusty roads in sandals. For those attending the Last Supper, the latter was more true. Their feet would have been covered in dirt and likely bruises or scars. Jesus, the King of Kings, reached for a towel and quietly knelt down to wash all of their feet... even Judas. Even though we are sinners, the savior wants to clean our filthy flesh and clean our souls.
With full bellies and joyful hearts, the disciples went to pray with Jesus in the Garden. Like many of us during Thanksgiving or Easter gatherings, we may fall asleep in a food coma by the afternoon.
The Church blesses us with the opportunity to sit in the Garden with Jesus. Though we may not understand why Jesus asks us to keep Him company. He needs His friends to be by His side on such a horrific night. He begins sweating blood and crying out to the Father. He is in agony. He's scared. He doesn't want to be alone tonight. He simply asks us to stay awake with Him and keep watch.
This year, I happened to be with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament when our pastor came and took Him away for the night. I could begin to imagine what the disciples felt as they watched Him be arrested and led out of the Garden. What could they do? What could we do? Slicing off the soldiers' ears wouldn't help, but it felt like it was something. We may feel a soldier grab onto our arm and attempt to take us away too. We may just have a linen cloth on, but we'd rather be naked than be condemned with Jesus. We may run. We may just stare. We may scream. We may cry. What was going to happen now that Jesus was taken into custody?
On this day, the Church is stripped of all decorations. The altar is bare. Mood is sorrowful. We are invited to the foot of the Cross. We hear the details of the Passion. We participate as a crowd who yells, "Crucify Him!" "Crucify Him!" We have a role. We are part of the problem. Our fallenness tempts us to run from God, but bringing our sins to Him allows Him to be our Savior. We get to venerate the Cross. In non-COVID times, we get to touch or kiss the wood. We get to ground ourselves in the memory of Jesus' earthly life with us and his criminal death. We don't celebrate a Mass since Jesus is not there to celebrate as High Priest. We just have "leftovers" from the grand Last Supper meal the night before.
We spend a lot of time in silence today as we remember the weight of our sins. This year, it was a little chilly, so I turned on my fireplace. The appearance and sound of the fire made me recall the fire in the Passion narrative. While Jesus was being tried, Peter kept warm around a charcoal fire. Though his body was getting warmer, his soul was getting colder as he publicly denied Jesus three times that evening around the fire (when Peter encounters the Risen Jesus around a charcoal fire, Jesus redeems his three-fold betrayal with a three-fold penance of speaking and meaning the words, "I love you.") Details matter to Jesus.
On this day, we wait. We likely sit around the fire again remembering the long night at the praetorium less than 24 hours before. We may find ourselves at the scene of the crime wondering if this was all some horrible dream. We may find ourselves at the tomb, trying to recall the words Jesus spoke about rebuilding, rising, and redeeming. We are called to wait and sit in the emotion. We stay in the tension of the unknown. We rest in our faith that Jesus was, is, and always will be our Savior. We don't rush to the end. We don't skip over the unpleasant parts. We pray, wait, and keep our eyes on that tomb.
After sunset, we gather around a fire to remember the power of light in the darkness. We each have a candle that helps to light the whole church. Our lives have meaning and purpose. We are not alone. Christ is with us. We sit and listen to the stories of the Old Testament that all point to the life of Christ and the salvation He would bring. We connect the dots. We anticipate the Resurrection! We then sing the Gloria! The lights come on! We announce that the tomb is empty! Christ has truly risen!!
We waited. We watched. We kept the faith. We believed.
In the late-night hours of Holy Saturday, the world sleeps. After attending the Vigil, we know the secret that will be made known at dawn.
We run to the tomb! It's empty! We see the flowers! We sing the Gloria! and Alleluia!
We give Him thanks and praise. Our hearts rejoice because death no longer has the last word. Jesus is alive and He has restored us to new life.
We may not feel like Easter Sunday in our hearts though and that is okay. According to St. John the Evangelist, Mary Magdalene discovers the empty tomb "when it is still dark." She doesn't assume the best right away, but rather concludes that His body was taken:
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” (John 20:1-2)
In this time of a global pandemic, there is plenty of darkness that surrounds us. We don't have all of the answers. Some places are more locked down than others, yet all of us are longing for the light to shine at the end of this long tunnel.
At the end of the Canticle of Zechariah in Morning Prayer each morning, my friend Deacon Ryan repeats these words to be reminded of the hope that the Risen Christ brings to all of us:
In the tender compassion of our Lord
The dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness
And the shadow of death,
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Even though the darkness is overwhelming and seems to never end. God gives us the freedom to give and to receive the light of hope even when we're still in the tunnel. The hope we find in Scripture and Tradition radiate the love of a God who is with us now.
I'm forever grateful to be a part of the Catholic Church that helps me to walk through each and every season that God brings me to. Some liturgical seasons feel more aligned with my heart than others because my life circumstances are always changing. Heartbreak doesn't discriminate or wait for the appropriate season to be felt. Joy is not to be stolen or suppressed. There are many surprises in life as none of us know what tomorrow will bring. God wants us to shine as we are and where we are.
My friend Fr. Jack beautifully explains that "the seasons of the liturgical calendar don’t have to dictate the season of your heart." So, take a deep breath. Jesus meets you where you are!
The reason we celebrate GOOD Friday and the Good News of Easter is that God draws us into His human heart. He models and glorifies the life we are called to live. He comforts and consoles us. He encourages and dances with us. After all, He is the Suffering Servant AND the Lord of the Dance.
This Easter Season, let us listen closely to the small voice of God. Let us not put our emotions on the shelf, but rather express them in their fullness. We are not called to be numb. When we feel pain or sorrow, we know we are alive and loved. When we feel joy and consolation, we are alive and loved. If you are on the Cross, experience the grace in the splinters. If you are in the empty tomb, experience the freedom of new life.
Pope Francis says that the Church is a "field hospital." At every hospital, there are people ailing and dying while there are people healing and birthing. Jesus can hold joy and sorrow in tension and invites us to know and hold the beauty within both. The Psalms are a beautiful way to pray through our emotions especially when we can't find our own words. When our heart is in God's hands, nothing is wasted.
Let us come and adore the Risen King, Our Lord of Lords, Our Prince of Peace!
Each day of the Easter Octave (8 days of Eastertide), we are to celebrate like it is Easter Sunday all over again! Then we settle into the extended Easter Season that prepares us for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (50 days after the Resurrection). I pray that you stay close to Christ where ever you are and experience the slow work of God in your hearts. Remember: feeling emotions means you are alive! Lean in. Draw near. Glorify the Lord with your life.
"We are the Easter people and Alleluia is our song!" St. John Paul II
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