Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Holy Week was just one big LOVE fest this year

I am still feeling like I spent a weekend away with the love of my life.

My Sweet Friend has drawn me close in the last week. I feel very blessed indeed.

And joyful that the Easter season lasts until Pentecost...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom

The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom is read at the end of Orthros (Matins) at Pascha, the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, universally throughout the Orthodox Church. It was composed sometime during his ministry in the late 4th or early 5th century.

"If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival. If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord. If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense."

If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.

Thank you to Peter+ for sending this to me.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

News from the Vigil

I have good news.

Yesterday during the three hour meditation at church, I was reflecting on Jesus crying out to God from the cross.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Sadder words have never been spoken. A more anguished cry I could not imagine. And for years now I have tried to understand how it could be that Jesus would be forsaken.

Good Friday has been for me, in the past, a day to meditate on my sins. I bring them to the foot of the cross and spend three mostly agonizing hours contemplating that the weight of them is partly what brought Jesus to hang on the tree. In Triduums past, the heaviness of my sin and the depth of my grief over His death has lingered long past the Easter Sunday service. It was like Lent sprawled beyond it's 40 days and seeped into the Easter season. One year it was nearly Pentecost before I got to feel the resurrection in my heart.

So it was strange, then, in the midst of a Good Friday service, to suddenly feel a sense of overwhelming joy. And stranger still that the joy would come from the words of Christ's agony on the cross.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The joy was this: Jesus took upon himself the sins, hurts, anger and grief of the world. He carried these things with him onto the cross so that we could be forgiven, redeemed, set free. He became fully human in order to save us humans. And part of being human is to be forsaken by God. It is an integral part of the human experience. King David felt it. Job certainly felt it. Scripture is full of stories of men and women suffering because they feel forsaken by God. I can't explain why. I just know that there have been moments in my own life, even as a Christian, when I felt distant from God. Like he had slid far away, to a place where I could not follow.

A few years before becoming a Christian, a friend of mine died of a heroin overdose. I went to his funeral at a Catholic church in Providence. I was into the new age stuff at that point, and was having a hard time reconciling my grief for my friend's death with the sense that I was somehow supposed to feel peace knowing that he was in a better place. Imagine my relief, then, when the priest spoke of Jesus at Lazarus' graveside, weeping with Mary and Martha. Even Jesus, who understood that Lazarus was going to rise from the dead, was weeping in grief. My sweet Friend, whom I did not yet know, came to me in that darkened church and gave me permission to feel as grief stricken as I did.... no apologies, no trying to pretend I was too enlightened for grief. He sat with me and wept at the grave of my friend. Because Jesus was fully human, too... and cried right along with me.

Last year when the flood destroyed Nguyen's business, I spent several weeks feeling like I was supposed to be handling the whole thing better. I am a Christian, after all. I know that God has a plan and that he can redeem even the most difficult situations. So why was I in such pain, such anger, such helplessness? I cried so much... all the while having to listen to some of my Christian friends tell me that God had a plan for all of it. Sometimes it didn't feel that way. And knowing it didn't seem to help. In fact, sometimes their words felt like hollow shortcuts through my fear and pain... a way for them to avoid the unpleasant reality of my suffering.

Yesterday in the church, as we contemplated the last words of Christ before his death, I suddenly understood that even our Lord felt forsaken while he suffered.

Let me repeat that.

Our Lord felt forsaken on the cross.

And because he was fully human and came to earth to redeem us, his experience means something. It means that no matter how separated from God we might feel in our moments of grief or loss or anger, we are not alone in that. Jesus is there with us. He is experiencing it right along with us.

Which means we are never actually alone.

So maybe next time something happens that causes me grief, I will rest a little easier knowing that Jesus is truly there with me.

My sweet, sweet Friend. Even in your agony, you draw close to us. Even in your pain, you give so generously. Thank you my Beloved. In your suffering, Lord, ours is redeemed. I praise you and worship and love you. Lord, you have taken on the sins of the world. Have mercy on us.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Holy Holy Holy

This is my 7th Lent as a Christian, and every year I am given a gift from our Lord. And every year so far it has been some kind of painful. It isn't easy spending time in the desert. No. Not at all.

I was having lunch with my spiritual director this week and remembered something from my days as a student of tarot. In the ancient Jewish tradition of the Tree of Life, there is one branch that has both Mercy and Severity.

For me, Lent is both of those things. Severe and Merciful.

Holy Week is fast approaching and this year I have chosen to not organize the overnight vigil at Grace Church. Every year since I have been there I have accepted the task of the vigil... writing a newsletter article explaining what it is, putting out sign up sheets, chasing people to try and fill up the time slots until morning. And then, when there were vast spaces of time left unfilled, I would sit in the church, sometimes alone, sometimes with someone else, often for hours at a time. One year I was there for 5 hours. Last year, the day after the flood destroyed our shop, I was there from midnight until 3am. Then Nguyen relieved me and sat for the rest of the night.

I am not complaining. I love the vigil. It has been, for me, a highpoint of my year. Every year I have something to bring to the altar. A death. A near death. A miraculous recovery. A loss. I lay them at our Lord's feet and ask his forgiveness. I lay myself at his feet at the base of the big stone altar and spend hours in his presence. One year the priest left the chalice uncovered and the heady fragrance of the sacramental wine wafted through the tiny chapel. I was sitting on the cold stone floor with the smell of gardens and burning wax and wine. It was incredible.

But this year, I am not up for organizing much of anything. This year I will be Mary and find a place to just sit at his feet and adore him for awhile. I will let someone else be Martha this year.