The palms and procession are over. We are mid-week in Holy Week, the day before the Triduum begins, the Great Three Days. Wednesday in Holy Week, at least for me, feels something like Holy Saturday, a day of waiting, knowing that the rest of this week will be lived within the great drama of the Passion of Jesus, and the Resurrection. I usually have at least one sleepless night in Holy Week, and tonight is that night.
This summer, I had the privilege of taking a 30 day silent retreat at Eastern Point Retreat House. The retreat was based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Each week of the 30-day Ignatian retreat is spent on different aspects of the life and ministry of Jesus. The final days are spent on the The Passion of Christ and the Resurrection. Part of the structure of the 30-day retreat is meeting every day with a spiritual director as we contemplated and prayed through the life of Christ. As we approached the Holy Week and Easter portions of the retreat, our directors encouraged us to stay with each movement of the Passion. They suggested, as Ignatius does, that we accompany Jesus as the disciples did, as the people around him did. Try to envision the events from different perspectives, perhaps as a specific disciple, like Peter or John, or as Mary, Jesus’ mother; or even as some great poets and artists have done, imagine and participate as a less visible or unknown witness, perhaps even as the creatures who may have been present, a bird on a rooftop, a donkey lifting his dusty feet. We put ourselves in the stories as Jesus travels from Bethany to Jerusalem, entering the city. Much as we do in the services of Holy Week, we prayed through the events of the Last Supper, the night in the garden of Gethsemane, the arrest, the trial, the crucifixion, the aftermath for the followers of Jesus, the time between taking him down from the Cross, laying him in the tomb. Then came that Holy Saturday pause before the Resurrection.
I’ve been meditating through the events of the Passion for many years, as I’m sure many people have. And every year, there comes a pull, a temptation, if you will, sometime in Holy Week, to flee the power of the story in some way, simply because of its power. Fleeing can take many forms, it can appear as avoidance, as distractions, as numbness, or dullness, as fatigue, as a refusal of the tasks, or the people one encounters. In Holy Week, fleeing can look like the disciples who were frightened or angry, or simply too tired to stay awake with Jesus in the garden as he prayed. During the retreat, when we approached the Holy Week scriptures and meditations, our directors encouraged us as we moved through the events. Over and over, quietly and gently, they reminded us to try and stay close to it. Jesus gave beautiful words for that kind of attentiveness: he asks us to abide with him, to remain with him through the movement of the days at the end of his life. The invitation is the same as it was in Advent, when Jesus told the disciples to be ready and prepared, to “keep awake.” Attending a death is much like attending a birth. At one point, as we waited for the Resurrection, my wonderful director, a nun from the Bronx, said a marvelous thing that I want to pass on to anyone who might be reading this: as you wait for the Resurrection, pray with it, contemplate it, and wait for it, don’t rush Easter–wait until you experience that moment that Jesus has risen for you. Wait until Christ is Risen for you. You’ll know it when it comes, she said. And she was right.
As we move into the Great Three Days, in anticipation of the Resurrection, as we wait and pray, may we abide with Christ, keeping awake with him, attending him through these last moments. May we experience the dawn of Easter, when each of us hears Jesus call us by name. May we know freshly, uniquely and truly, that Christ has risen indeed, for all of creation, for all of us, for me, for you.