Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sacrum Triduum

In the spring of 1971, as a sophomore in college, I made my first visit to San Francisco. A friend of mine and I drove up from Santa Barbara on a Friday morning and crashed at some hippie pad (I'm not making this up!) somewhere near the line between Santa Clara and San Mateo counties on the peninsula. We made our way into the city the next day and somehow obtained access to the temporarily-vacated dorm room of another friend who was doing an "urban semester." As I woke up on Sunday morning, it eventually dawned on me: "Hey, it's Easter." But I didn't entertain the thought very long. I was in San Francisco, and there was stuff to do!

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.

Thank-you, Jesus.


Mousie and Christy's Mommy said...

Your efforts "made it happen" for me when I came to my first Triduum services at St. John's. Perhaps that year I was the one person who made being so tired all worthwhile!

Thank you!

samsa said...

Fr Dan, Please don't ever become complacent in your efforts to bring forth the beauty of Easter. You just never know when it will truly hit home with a parishioner, including one who has been a faithful "pew sitter" for years as in my case. I rarely miss an early Sunday service. I am there for all the functions, but my Easter came to me last March at St John's in Lodi. It was the first year I truly understood the Mystery.I went to Maundy Thursday, I was there Good Friday,I spent an hour at the Alter of Repose and I wept at the Easter Vigil. This year our Rector @ CTK held a lovely Passover Seder, so well attended we ran out of food. Yes Easter is truly different in the EDioSJ. Please don't ever think it is mundane, you will continue to touch someone, you just never know who and when, Easter Blessings

us300 said...

You inspire me in so many ways! Two years ago, I sat there as you washed my feet, tears running down my face. I miss serving with you, and listening to your sermons. Keep up the GOOD work!

unklephil said...

You brought it home for me; not only the Triduum, but a whole new depth of meaning to Lent. Brenda's music helped a great deal as well, particularly the 'Vidi aquam' that never seemed to find a sense of 'done'.

To this day my eyes well up as I describe the experience that is the Great Vigil to anyone that will listen. It does my heart and soul good to see some of those people show up for not only the Vigil, but for all three evenings.

And, youngster, if I can find my way downtown in the middle of the night, you should be able to do so as well...