“You have heard it said…. But, I say to you…”
When Jesus spoke to the people, he brought to them a fresh, direct encounter with God. He did not bring them words about God; he brought them into contact with God. And he does so still.
Holy Week is the most explicitly direct time in the Christian Year. True, there are sermons preached at most of the services, but they are dwarfed by the impact of direct experience in these rites. During Holy Week there is a primal re-commitment to physical participation, a hands-on experimentation that leads to first-person learning for individuals and the entire community. We move beyond “having heard it said” and into having it told to us ourselves. The past, present, and eternal mingle in the Now of God; the True is revealed in the midst of time—if we are there to experience it.
Physical participation in worship is increasingly counter-cultural. As the norm for things becomes more and more electronic, decoupled from physical learning, the value of gathering, sharing, and experiencing together in physical worship can seem remote. Yet, all the evidence I have seen points to the necessity of integrating our minds and our bodies. Living radically compartmentalized lives sickens us physically, emotionally, and communally.
When we share in the liturgies of Holy Week we will share in the story salvation in such earthy, personal encounters as the Palm Sunday procession, the dimming lights of Tenebrae, the intimacy of Maundy Thursday’s footwashing, the touch of the Cross’s rough wood at the Solemn Veneration on Good Friday, the splash of New Life in the immersion of baptism and the overcoming of death’s veil when the Resurrection is proclaimed at the Great Vigil of Easter. These are not words about God, they are direct experiences of God’s action. We are not told exactly what to think, feel, or do: we are immersed in the reality of what has been done for us and must respond much as the first disciples. There is no actual difference. The question, the need, the situation remains constant. We are all one in this.
This direct participation in worship is extremely ancient. It was the norm for Christian worship before we in the West retreated into our books and our minds. That retreat has become a prison in many cases. Thankfully, we are beginning to recover an authentically Western participatory liturgical mysticism, of which this parish is one example.
By God’s grace, and by the blessing of a rich observance of the Prayer Book’s rites, we have been offered the key to break free from this prison of our own making. That key is to worship and journey towards the Empty Tomb together, letting God speak to us directly and anew.
May we walk the Way of Holy Week together as One Body, wherever we are in Christ’s Vineyard.