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Triduum in Trying Times

Tonight, we are entering into that special sacred space we call the "Triduum." It's a fancy way of saying the three days leading up to the Feast of the Resurrection, commonly called Easter.

Normally, Episcopalians would gather at their churches tonight, sometimes to share an agape meal, but always to have a foot-washing, a Eucharist, and the sobering moment of watching the things that make our altars beautiful and identifiable get stripped down to nothing. As I remarked in a sermon once at my sending parish, St. Thomas has some of the altar linens fastened down with Velcro. When the altar guild removes them in the silence of the sanctuary with us watching, the ripping sound sends a chill down my spine. It is the reminder of the humiliation and violence Jesus endured when the Roman soldiers stripped him, beat him, and mocked him.

These days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday have served as the opportunity for me to stand before a cross, draped in black, and reflect upon those last moments in Jesus' life and what that brutality and violence means for me and the world. These are the days when I enter deeply into the Christian narrative and have been a time which is both intensely personal and transformative.

I have had these moments of theological reflection both as  a devout member of a faith community and even when I was not a member of a church.

I have been thinking a lot lately about my faith in God, and my faith in God as the Trinity (I have to do this anyway as part of a class in seminary). Since Palm Sunday, I have been reflecting on a conversation I had about Ash Wednesday with the late Father Lee Graham, a Virginia Theological Seminary graduate. Lee challenged me to stand outside St. John's Episcopal Church in downtown Tallahassee and protest Ash Wednesday. I was curious what prompted this 90+ year-old Episcopal priest to be so anti-Ash Wednesday. He explained that he "ain't dust!" and insisted that he was a "child of God" and that the church was using Ash Wednesday as a way to make people feel guilty. And then he turned the tables on me.

"What do you think? Do you think you're dust?"

I didn't have an answer. I had never thought about the question. He smiled and shook his head.

"You need to question your faith!"

Here enter a pandemic that has cancelled Holy Week and Easter services in churches around the globe. People are long-faced and despairing.

How can they celebrate Easter when it feels as if Holy Week is never-ending?

How can they know that they are members of the body of Christ if they are unable to celebrate the Eucharist?

I find myself returning to Fr. Lee's examination of me at his dining room table, and I turn the question around: is our faith in God so dependent upon the rituals and liturgies of Holy Week? Is our faith in God only to be found in the breaking of the bread? Is it only Easter if we are gathered in a church full of flowers on a particular Sunday in the Spring?

Again, I remember that I spent years of my life not associated with a church community in large part because the only church community I had ever known, the Episcopal Church, was a toxic and harmful place for a queer person in Tallahassee. And I had known enough, and had enough of an experience with God, to know that I did not need to subject myself to homophobic rantings from a pulpit to be in relationship with God.

Returning to the church, being part of the Christian community, has certainly deepened and strengthened my relationship with God. One of the ways these roots have sunk so far down is that I have developed friendships with others who, through their baptisms, are in a covenanted bonding with me through Christ. This is why Christianity is a communal religion and why it has been painful for many of us to have to resort to Facebook Live and Zoom in order to worship together. But that's the thing: we are able to worship together through the means of technology. We are able to text and talk on the phone and have Skype and FaceTime and other means of being in touch during this time when we cannot touch each other.

All of this reminds me of the scene in Matthew's gospel where the disciples are in a boat, and they see Jesus walking on the water toward them. They cower in fear because they presume he's a ghost. He assures them that it's really him and they shouldn't be afraid. That's when Peter pipes up and asks Jesus to invite Peter out onto the water with him. Jesus tells his disciple to come. So Peter steps out of the boat onto the water:

But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.--Matthew 14:30-32

These are trying times right now. But I believe that it is in our moments when we are feeling ourselves sinking into despair about social distancing and mourning the loss of liturgy that we are called upon to trust in God and not be afraid. Easter will happen. Love will conquer death. And we, too, will rise from this figurative death as well. Keep the faith.

This post first appeared on Wake Up And LIVE, please read the originial post: here

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Triduum in Trying Times


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