Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Holy Week pt 1. -- The Strangeness of Liturgy

I grew up in the liturgy of the Episcopal church.  I was baptized, confirmed, and married according to the Book of Common Prayer.  I've heard the Eucharist service more Sundays than not since I was born, and have witnessed 24 church years progress from Advent 1 to Christ the King Sunday*.  Going to church for so long, its rites are as familiar as my family's Christmas or Easter Dinner or the road to the diocesan retreat center in the mountains of Western Virginia.

Being familiar, the rites do not lose their beauty, but I suspect they lose some of their power.  The Eucharistic prayer is lovely every time I hear it, but the strangeness of Theophagia is easy to ignore when you've done it 1,000 times before.  Religion risks becoming something merely comfortable, which is not exactly appropriate if it is supposed to be an encounter with God.

So I'm glad when Lent and  Holy week roll around.  The great holidays of Lent -- Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday -- make me feel as though I'm in some 'exotic' religion from  the east, like I'm living out a picture of Divali or another Hindu feast that is outside of my modern, western experience. 

Ash Wednesday will never cease to be strange--getting ashes put on your forehead as a priest says "remember thou art but dust, and to dust you shall return" is not something to get used to.  And the strangeness continues.  Palm Sunday starts with the congregation waiving palm branches and shouting 'Hosanna' and ends with us playing the part of the mob shouting for the blood of our own God*, whose death we give thanks for every Sunday.  Maundy Thursday sees us reminded of the weird origins of our weekly Eucharist (and  sometimes watching one another's feet) and Good Friday is stark, silent and grim.  In Easter the mood does a 180 again, and in some ways it is a Sunday like the rest -- once again a celebration of resurection.  Yet it means more because of the preceding week and 40 days before, which serve as a reminder of just how strange our Sunday rituals are.

*Advent is the season before Christmas, and the start of the church year.  Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday before advent.

**I really like this part -- Like the arias of Bach's Matthew Passion, it shows that the sin of all human beings is responsible for the death of Christ, and thus gives the lie to the toxic notion that 'the Jews' killed Jesus.

No comments:

Post a Comment