Only two years later, I was well into my discovery of liturgical time. I was spending Sunday mornings in a Lutheran congregation but sought out an Episcopal parish on Good Friday afternoon, where I encountered the then-ubiquitous Three Hours of meditations on the Seven Last Words of Christ, interspersed with readings, hymns and prayers.
It was not until 1979 that I tapped into the Mother Lode, however. By then I was living (with a wife, two kids, and a third on the way) in Salem, Oregon. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer was still only "proposed," awaiting its second reading in the General Convention to come that summer; it was still very much the "new" Prayer Book. And we had a new young priest who had learned his liturgy at General Seminary only recently and was keen to make it all happen in the first parish where he was "in charge."
I was blown away.
It was my first experience with Maundy Thursday foot-washing, stripping of the altar, procession to the Altar of Repose, and the all-night vigil there. (Beginning then, and for the next 15 years, I always signed up for the 3:30 to 4:30 AM slot.) The next day was my first experience of the Solemn Collects (with long enough silence after the biddings to actually get some praying done) and the Veneration of the Cross--I'm talking about every individual in the congregation coming up and spending quality time at the foot of a literal "old rugged cross" while we sang nearly every hymn in the "Passiontide" section of the Hymnal 1940. Then we had a real Easter Vigil, beginning at 10 PM, with the five Old Testament prophecies that are narrative in nature (Creation, Flood, Sacrifice, Exodus, Dry Bones), some baptisms, and all heaven breaking loose when the lights came on. I cried real tears during "Jesus Christ is Risen Today," and I am so not a crier. Then we had a party, with lots of food and drink and dancing, and it was dawn before the Parish Hall cleared out. (Being a musician, I had to be awake and attentive for the decidedly lower-key Easter morning liturgy, but I had enough adrenalin in me to get the job done.)
When I graduated from seminary in 1989 and went to my first parish as a curate, my kids--who were then 13, 10, and 9--were flabbergasted to find that some people actually go to church on Easter morning; they had never heard of such a thing!
So I guess this is my thirty-first Triduum, my twentieth as a priest. I would be lying if I said it's still as intense for me as it was those first few years. It's become--dare I say it?--kind of routine. Not boring, not by a long shot. But routine. I'm too old to get up in the middle of the night and drive down to the church to sit and pray and doze off for an hour. And it's certainly work, work that challenges my "see the forest, not the trees" natural wiring. At one level, I'm disappointed every year by the number of parishioners I don't see in church. It feels like a personal failure that I am unable to somehow "get through to them" how important this is, how vital this is, how everything we do as a church community drinks from this well, and how much they are depriving themselves of by not being there. From the occasional asking around among colleagues that I do, I know I'm not alone in this experience of pastoral frustration.
When noon on Easter Sunday rolls around, I will be barely alive. But it's always that "good kind of tired." You see, every year, I can think of at least one person for whom my efforts are "making it happen" the way that young (now not so young) new vicar did for me in 1979. And when I look at the Triduum through that set of eyes, the routine fades away and the work feels like play again.