The Paschal Triduum, St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, Jacksonville, Florida, USA.
To read the Scripture passages for the Sacred Triduum, click:
[Jesus said,] “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” Mark 4:36.
Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
The word “Triduum” simply means three days, inspired by Latin. It is a special title for the crucial three days of the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, without which there would be no Christian church, no Christian belief, and we would inhabit a world of almost certainly much greater barbarism and cruelty than we already have. The first of the three days is Holy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper. Jesus knew he was close to humiliation, injustice and death, but wanted to remain with us always, something he promised as his last words in the gospel of Matthew. He was to do this through the Eucharist, a Greek word which means thanksgiving, or gratitude. At each Mass, each of which is a re-enactment of the Last Supper, we say thank you to the Lord for remaining with us through thick and thin, giving us the strength and courage to obey God’s will in all situations. This is exactly what Jesus did when faced with disaster, obeying God’s will to remain true to his identity, as Son of God, and his vocation, to be the long-promised Messiah, Christ, meaning God’s Anointed One. He could have escaped the Passion by denying that. He did not, thereby obeying God’s will, thereby suffering the consequences. But because of that, by God’s will he conquered even death itself, rising to life once more on the third day. And he invites each of us to be as true to God’s will as it applies to each of us, and thereby earn life everlasting. That’s how important these three days are.
The Last Supper, Tintoretto 1593, Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, Italy.
This was a dinner to celebrate the Passover of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt to the freedom, ultimately, in the Promised Land. God demanded that this celebration be kept every year in memory of the event, which is done to this day by our Jewish brothers and sisters. We Christians commemorate it at each Mass too, but with a crucial difference. Jesus combined this Passover celebration with the Covenant made at Mount Sinai where the Hebrews agreed to obey God’s Law, the 10 Commandments, and thereby God promised to be their God. Hence Jesus took the unleavened bread of the Passover meal, blessed it and proclaimed it to be his body. Then he took the cup of wine of the Passover meal, and declared it was his blood. At the original covenant ceremony at Mount Sinai, the sealing of the link between God and the people was via the blood of sacrificed animals poured on an altar, representing God, and then over the people (Exodus 24:1-8). The blood, being a symbol of life, hence linked the life of God with the life of the people themselves. Hence Jesus’ words at the Last Supper “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many” (Mark 14:24) meant there was a new Covenant in Jesus’ blood. And then consuming the consecrated bread and wine meant Jesus’ very body and blood actually enter us and become part of us and we enter the life of Christ himself. Then, in John’s gospel he gave us the Golden Rule of love “This then is what I command you: love one another” (John 15:17). Then as if to demonstrate what that meant, Jesus washed the feet of his followers as an example, saying “I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you” (John 13:15). Hence he gave them a mandate, which is to say an order, to carry out that course of action, the source of the name “Maundy Thursday”, maundy being a corruption of the word mandate. We are all to love and serve each other no matter what.
The Crucified Christ, Velázquez 1632, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain.
Today the dread events of the Lord’s last, agonizing hours in this world are remembered. The Innocent One is unjustly condemned, spat on, whipped, mocked, stripped and made to carry the instrument of his torture to a public place where he was physically nailed to the cross, raised up for public display and left to die. And he had done nothing wrong. Today is the only day in the year when no Mass is celebrated. The tabernacle door is open, with nothing within. Communion is given from the reserved sacrament of yesterday, and a meditation is held on the suffering of Jesus all those years ago. It is a cold, desperate and sorrowful communal remembrance of the last hours of the Savior of the world. Yet even then he forgave those who had done that to him, heard the plea of the criminal crucified along with him and promised him Paradise, and asked his disciple John, the only disciple to stand by him, to take his anguished mother into his care. And even though there was not one single element of a loving God present, he still committed his spirit into the hands of his Father, stating it is finished, meaning the task God gave him, as the Messiah, was completed, thereby demonstrating even then his total dedication to his Father, even though, by this world’s standards, Jesus was an utter failure.
EASTER: THE RESURRECTION
The Empty Tomb, Finding God in Everyday Life.
Not one word exists in all four gospels as to the event in the tomb within which the dead body of the Lord had been laid. According to which gospel you are reading, this is the closest to an explanation: Matthew has an angel come down from heaven and enter the empty tomb; in Mark the tomb has no body, but has an angel sitting inside; in Luke there is an empty tomb, with two angels appearing outside the tomb; John has an empty tomb as seen by Peter and John who then leave, then Mary Magdalene looks in and sees two angels there, then turns around to see the risen Jesus, whom she mistakes for the gardener. The angels mentioned in Matthew, Mark and Luke all say Jesus “has been raised” which is the only explanation offered as to what had happened in the tomb. Scholars tell us that this is the end of the earliest gospel, Mark, as it represents the conclusion of the Messiah’s mission on earth. Later, old traditions of appearances of the risen Lord were added. But it is logical to see this as the conclusion of Jesus’ work on earth. His message is that if you are true to God through life, no matter what sufferings or contempt we might suffer, God will be with us and true to us throughout, and will lead us to an eternal life of peace and joy beyond this world of suffering and pain.
The Resurrection Stone within the Aedicule, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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Happy Easter to you!