Today Hades tearfully sighs: “Would that I had not received him who was born of Mary, for he came to me and destroyed my power; he broke my bronze gates, and being God, delivered the souls I had been holding captive.”
O Lord, glory to your cross and to your holy resurrection!
Today Hades groans: “My power has vanished. I received one who died as mortals die, but I could not hold him; with him and through him I lost those over which I had ruled. I had held control over the dead since the world began, and lo, he raises them all up with him!”
O Lord, glory to your cross and to your holy resurrection!
• Holy Saturday Orthodox Liturgy
A Triddum Sourcebook, p. 66
…Suddenly all of them standing around the gallows know it: he is gone. Immeasurable emptiness (not solitude) streams forth from the hanging body. Nothing but this fantastic emptiness is any longer at work here. The world with its shape has perished; it tore like a curtain from top to bottom, without making a sound. It fainted away, turned to dust, burst like a bubble. There is nothing more but nothingness itself.
The world is dead.
Love is dead.
God is dead.
Everything that was, was a dream dreamt by no one. The present is all past. The future is nothing. The hand has disappeared from the clock’s face. No more struggle between love and hate, between life and death. Both have been equalized, and love’s emptying out has become the emptiness of hell. One has penetrated the other perfectly. The nadir has reached the zenith: nirvana.
Was the form of a Heart visible in the boundless void for a flash as the sky was rent, drifting in the whirlwind through the worldless chaos, driven like a leaf?
Or was it winged, propelled and directed by its own invisible wings, standing as lone survivor between the soulless heavens and the perished earth?
Chaos. Beyond heaven and hell. Shapeless nothingness behind the bounds of creation.
Is that God?
God died on the Cross.
Is that death?
No dead are to be seen.
Is it the end?
Nothing that ends is any longer there.
Is it the beginning?
The beginning of what? In the beginning was the Word. What kind of word? What incomprehensible, formless, meaningless word? But look: What is this light glimmer that wavers and begins to take form in the endless void? It has neither content nor contour.
A nameless thing, more solitary than God, it emerges out of pure emptiness. It is no one. It is anterior to everything. Is it the beginning? It is small and undefined as a drop. Perhaps it is water. But it does not flow. It is not water. It is thicker, more opaque, more viscous than water. It is also not blood, for blood is red, blood is alive, blood has a loud human speech. This is neither water nor blood. It is older than both, a chaotic drop.
Slowly, slowly, unbelievably slowly the drop begins to quicken. We do not know whether this movement is infinite fatigue at death’s extremity or the first beginning – of what?
Quiet, quiet! Hold the breath of your thoughts! It’s still much too early in the day to think of hope. The seed is still much too weak to start whispering about love. But look there: it is indeed moving, a weak, viscous flow. It’s still much too early to speak of a wellspring.
It trickles, lost in the chaos, directionless, without gravity. But more copiously now. A wellspring in the chaos. It leaps out of pure nothingness, it leaps out of itself.
It is not the beginning of God, who eternally and mightily brings himself into existence as Life and Love and triune Bliss.
It is not the beginning of creation, which gently and in slumber slips out of the Creator’s hands.
It is a beginning without parallel, as if Life were arising from Death, as if weariness (already such weariness as no amount of sleep could ever dispel) and the uttermost decay of power were melting at creation’s outer edge, were beginning to flow, because flowing is perhaps a sign and a likeness of weariness which can no longer contain itself, because everything that is strong and solid must in the end dissolve into water. But hadn’t it – in the beginning – also been born from water? And is this wellspring in the chaos, this trickling weariness, not the beginning of a new creation?
The magic of Holy Saturday.
The chaotic fountain remains directionless. Could this be the residue of the Son’s love which, poured out to the last when every vessel cracked and the old world perished, is now making a path for itself to the Father through the glooms of nought?
Or, in spite of it all, is this love trickling on in impotence, unconsciously, laboriously, towards a new creation that does not yet even exist, a creation which is still to be lifted up and given shape? Is it a protoplasm producing itself in the beginning, the first seed of the New Heaven and the New Earth?
The spring leaps up even more plenteously. To be sure, it flows out of a wound and is like the blossom and fruit of a wound; like a tree it sprouts up from this wound. But the wound no longer causes pain. The suffering has been left far behind as the past origin and previous source of today’s wellspring.
What is poured out here is no longer a present suffering, but a suffering that has been concluded–no longer now a sacrificing love, but a love sacrificed.
Only the wound is there: gaping, the great open gate, the chaos, the nothingness out of which the wellspring leaps forth. Never again will this gate be shut. Just as the first creation arose ever anew out of sheer nothingness, so, too, this second world – still unborn, still caught up in its first rising – will have its sole origin in this wound, which is never to close again.
In the future, all shape must arise out of this gaping void, all wholeness must draw its strength from the creating wound.
High-vaulted triumphal Gate of Life! Armored in gold, armies of graces stream out of you with fiery lances. Deep-dug Fountain of Life! Wave upon wave gushes out of you inexhaustible, ever-flowing, billows of water and blood baptizing the heathen hearts, comforting the yearning souls, rushing over the deserts of guilt, enriching over-abundantly, overflowing every heart that receives it, far surpassing every desire.
–Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988, Heart of the World)
The Lord’s descent into the underworld
Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all”. Christ answered him: “And with your spirit”. He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light”.
I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden. See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.
“It is finished”. Found in the gospel of John (John 19:30), these three simple words changed everything. It is fair though to ask the question what exactly is finished? We can look around our cities and towns and see violence and addiction, poverty and need. We can watch the news and see all manner of evil across the globe. We can look into our lives and see all the mistakes and misdeeds. So what exactly is finished really?
The answer is the grip of sin. No, not sin itself, but the grip that sin has over humanity. That is what is finished. The grip that sin had on our lives, the power of sin to condemn us and force us into an endless cycle of guilt then sacrifice, then wash, rinse and repeat is finished. The excuse we had to commit sins as well. That is what is finished. God, knowing that mankind desperately needed both a savior and a sovereign, sent one son to be both. God, understanding that the world was in such need of hope, sent the Blessed Hope, a perfect hope, so that we could rise from the fear, the anger and the depression of a fallen kingdom and become a part of The Perfect Kingdom of God. Yet we look around and can only help but ask, “what is finished?” We look around and see not what God intended, but instead what man has made.
Yet still, it is finished. The central message of Good Friday. The reminder of the price that was paid for us. The worth that we have to God and Christ. The promise that the final sacrifice has been made. What went so wrong? If it indeed is finished, if the grip that sin had is no longer on the faithful, why are things as they are? The problem is not that sin still has a grip on mankind, the problem is that mankind has not lost it’s grip on sin. It is finished- the power of sin is finished- but unfortunately we are not finished with sin.
Christ’s words “it is finished” is both a declaration that sin no longer has grip on us and a reminder that our grip on sin should be finished as well. It is an encouragement that sin can be overcome, and a reminder that we can overcome it through the power of the cross. It is the central message of Good Friday. It is finished, so that we can begin.
- O sacred Head, now wounded, With grief and shame weighed down, Now scornfully surrounded With thorns, Thine only crown. O sacred Head, what glory, What bliss, till now was Thine! Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.
Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance, Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee And flee before Thy glance. How art thou pale with anguish, With sore abuse and scorn! How doth Thy visage languish That once was bright as morn!
Now from Thy cheeks has vanished Their color, once so fair; From Thy red lips is banished The splendor that was there. Grim Death, with cruel rigor, Hath robbed Thee of Thy life; Thus Thou has lost Thy vigor, Thy strength, in this sad strife.
My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me, For it was my transgression Which brought this woe on thee. I cast me down before Thee, Wrath were my rightful lot; Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!
My Shepherd, now receive me; My Guardian, own me Thine. Great blessings Thou didst give me, O Source of gifts divine! Thy lips have often fed me With words of truth and love, Thy Spirit oft hath led me To heavenly joys above.
Here I will stand beside Thee, From Thee I will not part; O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart, When soul and body languish In death’s cold, cruel grasp, Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.
The joy can ne’er be spoken, Above all joys beside, When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide. O Lord of life, desiring Thy glory now to see, Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.
What language shall I borrow To thank Thee, dearest Friend, For this, Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? Oh, make me thine forever! And should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never, Outlive my love for Thee.
My Savior, be Thou near me When death is at my door; Then let Thy presence cheer me, Forsake me nevermore! When soul and body languish, Oh, leave me not alone, But take away mine anguish By virtue of Thine own!
Be Thou my Consolation, My Shield when I must die; Remind me of Thy Passion When my last hour draws nigh. Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, Upon Thy cross shall dwell, My heart by faith enfold Thee. Who dieth thus dies well!
Notes: Hymn #172 from The Handbook to The Lutheran Hymnal Text: Is. 50: 6 Author: Paul Gerhardt Based on the Latin poem “Salve caput cruentatum” By Bernard of Clairvaux, 1153, asc. Translated by: composite Titled: O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden Composer: Hans L. Hassier, 1601 Tune: Herzlich tut mich. This text was converted to ascii format for Project Wittenberg by Cindy A. Beesley and is in the public domain. You may freely distribute, copy or print this text.
Yes. I know.
In 2011, I wrote –
I hope that you and yours begin this Resurrection season with the appropriate memorial.
This will be a different season for us, seeing that this will be our first Maundy Thursday. We will be attending service this evening, and the next for Good Friday, and I am looking forward to it.
This holiday must be larger than Christmas, and one which lasts throughout the Church year. Christ is the center of the Christian life, and if He is the center there, and then in our congregations, then this must be the moment for a celebration in our ecumenical spirit. Let those who love Christ celebrate one with another.
Remember John 17.
Now, it is 2014. Maundy Thursday is no longer new to me, but a day on my calendar I look forward to. It is part of the Easter weekend, as it were.
As a scholar, or rather, as one who has scholarly pretensions, it is difficult to quantify, or qualify, my faith by academic standards. There really is no need for such a labor, I would offer — since there are times that we simply have to echo John Wesley in saying, “I choose to believe.”
So, today, I choose to believe Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil give away to the a-historical* Resurrection of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. We begin our time of reflection with a service harkening back to John with the washing of the feet. It was a sign not just of humility, but of unity.
As many in the UMC work to tear her apart, today I will join in prayer with those who are working to remember not just the foot washing of John 13, but so too the prayerful lament of Jesus in John 17.
Again, in 2014, I write: Remember John 17.
*Because I believe the Resurrection, while a moment in history, also transcends history.
In 2012 there were about 11,000 Starbucks in the United States. If you add in other chains as well as mom and pop shops, the number climbs to about 20,000 total coffee shops. In that same year there were about 300,000 protestant churches. If we add in our Catholic brothers and sister, that number gets much larger. 75% of US adults drink coffee from a coffee shop, 58% do so daily. With far less availability, the coffee shops have managed to saturate the country with lovely caffeine. Why can’t the church saturate the country with living water?
A coffee shop has advertising and a marketable product that people want. Consequently, people actually go to the coffee shop. The church does not really have that luxury in this climate. While the church does have the living water to offer that all people need, there is little conscious desire in people to go seek it out. To be fair, part of the problem is a society that does not seem to value moral standards, part of the problem is the reputation that the church has- both deserved and undeserved. Such a big part of the problem though is that the church is largely still waiting for people to come and get a cup, not going and giving one.
I think that the answer can be found in John chapter 4 with the well known story of the Samaritan woman at the well. I am not going to recount the entire story, here but rather bring up a pivotal verse in the exchange of the woman and Jesus. In John 4:25 the woman says “The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” ” She knew that the Messiah was coming. She had no thought that she would go to Him, but that He was the one coming to her. There is a lot more to the story and it is worth a read again for any of us. The point is that Jesus went to where she was.
Perhaps there was a day when people came to the church to find Christ, if so, it was before I was born and today is not that day. The church should not be the primary source of people hearing about Christ, it should be the place where people come together in worship and to grow. It is a wonderful thing when you get to witness a “come to Jesus moment”, but it should not be counted upon. We need to be spending more time going to the well (or to Starbucks or wherever), because there are people there waiting for the message of the messiah.
At my church, as in many churches I suspect, there is an Easter egg hunt. It occurred last Saturday. I’m rather happy to say that before the hunt, the story of Easter is told so that the children and their parent s get to hear it. It’s always a delight to hear the story. I freely admit that I am not normally a fan of the church Easter egg hunt, but this year was a bit different.
The eggs were placed in separate areas outside for differing age groups. My step son was in the kindergarten group. The kids were lined up behind the streamer, and before long it was cut and they were set loose upon the unsuspecting plastic eggs. The kids all took off running to get their sugary surprises…except Thaddeus. He just strolled casually picking up the eggs that the kids running had left behind them. After all the eggs had been discovered and the kids were going over their haul, Thaddeus was walking around and giving eggs to those who did not get as many as he had. Of course after all this there were cookies, kids running, playing and doing those things that children are wont to do.
It’s Lent and time for thought and reflection. At the Easter egg hunt I reflected and learned that while some of us are busy arguing about what to have for Easter dinner, stressing over what to wear to church, worrying over who will cause the family fight this year, etc. that there are five year old boys who are not worried about such things and are just busy living out faith as best as they understand it. That is something worth reflecting on.
I am in Louisiana for a few days and then to a rather special place in Alabama.
Traveling always puts me into a sort of reflective mood, or mind-set. Maybe it is the destination. After all, I left Louisiana years ago. I left for a variety of reasons and excuses, but more than anything, I just wanted to get away from all that Louisiana was and is in my life. Bad family, bad religion, and just bad.
Leaving West Virginia, the place and I am unnaturally attached too… if you aren’t attached to a geographical locale, I cannot tell you what I mean. But West Virginia represents more than just an unexplainable attached to the land…but good family, good faith, and (believe it not) progressive change.
I got to see the same roads and the same places as I once did. But, they aren’t the same. Things change. Things grow. Cities grow. White people move. What was once pasture is now a hotel and McDonalds. What was one the first “mountain” we saw leaving Louisiana is now a Sam’s Club and a parking lot.
It is a good time to reflect on where I am and where I am going. When I left, I never thought I would be able to return. It is an expensive trip. I’m not saying I can go every week, but I am able to go at least once a year. I have become much closer to my Great Aunts – and great in every sense of the word. Other things, as you know, have changed.
Still, the only thing I really miss here is the food… and I’m not even sure that is the case anymore. Last night, we stopped at Don’s Seafood, a local eatery who I have only later found out has been purchased way from the family owners. The food was… less than stellar. It tasted plastic. It was…boring. But, I still get my Community Coffee – shipped up from Amazon.
And this morning…I get to go to a Southern Baptist Church.
This Sunday is Palm Sunday and also the Sunday that I will join my local UMC. It is technically a transfer as I have moved, but that does not make it any less momentous for me. It is really the perfect day to join the church I think. Palm Sunday is, of course the day that we celebrate Christ riding into Jerusalem to set into motion the events that would change everything. It is the Sunday that we are reminded that our purpose is to continue to change ourselves through the continuing conforming to the likeness of Christ and also through our service to a world in need. This Sunday, it is also the reminder of hope.
Hope is defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. That is, I think, what the local church is at its best. The expectation and desire for our own transformation, for the transformation of our neighborhoods because of our transformation and so on and so on. The expectation and desire for the return of Christ and the new heaven and earth that we are all desperately in need of. The expectation and desire of the unity of the body. The expectation and desire that not only can it be better, that it will be better so long as we remain in that perfect hope that Christ brings.
In the world today we are constantly reminded of all the reasons that we should lose hope. The 24/7 news cycle making sure we are aware of every evil that exists, of the conflicts in the protestant and catholic church. The personal struggles and failings of pastors played out on a national stage, etc. The local church and its reminder of the hope in Christ seems to be the best, and perhaps only option, to not be consumed by all the other things we see and hear.
Coming up is Palm Sunday, then holy week and eventually Easter. The promises of this time are many. The promise of resurrection, the promise of salvation, and the promise that there will come a time when the world is as it should be. Those promises are for the future and are wonderful and comforting to hold on to, but don’t forget the gift of hope. That gift is what allows us to all hold on until the promises are fulfilled.