Friday, April 10, 2009

Were You There...?

There I lay on the floor - dressed in an alb - a hopeful prefigurement of where this journey may one day (Lord willing) pass from the "seminarian" phase into the "priesthood" phase - only unlike the ordination liturgy my soul seems so desperately to long for, here I lay in front of a tomb...

...no - I'm not in Jerusalem, not now & certainly not 2,000 years ago, not in front of THE tomb. But, based on what I can imagine reading through the lines of the Gospels, neither was anyone else lying prostrate in front of THE tomb. Scattered to the winds, fresh on the stings of their own denials, scared of what would happen to them if He could be cricified, or perhaps even utterly confused - unable to make any sense of how the Messiah could be dead... beaten, and mocked, and humiliated, and dead. That tomb, with its stone rolled over the entrance, wasn't venerated (that we know of) on that dark Good Friday evening. So why is it that a simple guy from the heart of Kentucky lies on a marble floor prostrate before a tomb built to resemble THE tomb?

Today's retreat - in the midst of the Triduum liturgies which make present the disjointedness of worshipping a Savior hung on a tree by lacking beginning or end, by having some of what should be there but missing so much as well... today's retreat paused to celebrate the 'Mystical Burial of Christ' - the Good Friday liturgy in the Byzentine tradition. There right before the altar is a tomb... a tomb that soon will hold the book of the Gospels just as THE tomb held the Word of God Incarnate...

Some things about this tomb are different - it is smaller, it is in the clean and safe-from-the-dirt-and-weather-environment of our chapel, there is no stone to roll in front of it to seal it... but in pertinent part, this tomb is EXACTLY the same. Earlier today, following the Solemn Liturgy for Good Friday in the Archabbey Church, my classmates and I gathered to complete the construction of this tomb. Recalling that Christ - beaten and worn and tired and abandoned - became 'aware that everything was now finished'. We recalled that He breathed his last, that His side was pierced, that a tomb was procured, His body was prepared...and he was laid in a tomb.

But most importantly, we recalled that it is us - you - me... my sin... that required such a tomb. Reminded that even today, it is our sin - it is my sin - that attempts to enclose and darken and hold captive the Light of Christ in the world, we one by one picked up a stone and as we confessed to one another the ways we entomb our Lord by our sins, we placed the stone...finishing its contstruction.

'For not being a good steward of the gift of my body...' I realize I bury Christ within... and for this, my brothers pray for me: Lord, have mercy. 'For those times when I consider my needs and concerns before those of this community and the Church...' I realize I bury Christ within... and for this, my brothers pray for me: Lord, have mercy. One by one, we acknowledge the ways we bury Christ in our lives...

...and so at the end of this day where we remember our Lord's death, we gather, and in the most ancient of ways, we process with incense, and candles, and we acknowledge our sin by liturgically placing the book of the Gospels into that tomb...

...and we process with a burial shroud...and with the death drum concludes its march, we release the shroud... it falls to the ground... and it is finished.

One by one, we take flowers and approach the tomb...
we cry (some of us)...
we kneel (most of us)...
we acknowledge the sin that brings this sad day to pass (all of us)...
and we sing:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?


I am there... building that tomb... in my sinfulness, I am there.

But... if that's all there was to the story, we wouldn't have been celebrating that liturgy where I lay face down before the tomb...

...if that's all there was to the story, there would be no such thing as an ordination liturgy where I again may one day be blessed to lay face down before my Lord pledging my life (scarred by sin as it is and will be) to His service...

...if that's all there was to the story, there would be no Good Friday commemoration, no hope that grows from the yearly remembrance of betrayal, abandonment, torture, and death...

...if that's all there was to the story, all would be hopeless.

But...there's more.

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