To be quite honest, the Easter Sunday Mass has never been my favorite. I have always been drawn to the evening services of Holy Week. Each year I am struck by the stripping of the altars on Maundy Thursday when the altar, divested of it’s glorify, mimics the stripped and beaten body of our savior. Then there is subsequent departure in silence. Have you been there? Have you seen it? Have you felt deep within in your soul that we share in failure of the disciples who abandoned Jesus at his hour of great need? That was the hour of darkness when the Son of Man was handed over to sinners.
On Good Friday I am stirred by the entry in silence. No hymns, no incense, no altar hangings, just the bare wooden altar that symbolizes the cross that awaits our king. Then we venerate the cross. The church, the whole of it, gathers one by one to glory in an instrument of death that has become our life. In the American church, we conclude the Good Friday liturgy with a prayer that says
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set
your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and
our souls, now and in the hour of our death.
That’s it isn’t? The Son, who has authority to cast us away into darkness, the judge of the living and the dead, is the one who intercedes on our behalf. Good Friday says it plainly: set your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and our souls.
The last of the evening services is the Great Vigil of Easter. If any celebration can lay claim to being the summit of the Christian year, it is this one. Have you been to one of these services? Have you begun outside the church in the dark of the night and heard the cantor proclaim the light of Christ? Have you heard the exultet: Rejoice now heavenly host and choirs of Angels! Have you heard the repeated refrain this is the night each time more urgent:
This is the night, when you brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt.
This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness
This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.
But when we turn to the morning – Easter Sunday – the church has no special liturgy for this day! I find that shocking. There is a collect celebrating the resurrection, but otherwise the liturgy of Easter is almost indistinguishable from any other Sunday. It is almost as if the church has said, we have given you our testimony. He has died, he is risen, and we are filled with joy. It seems that the church recognizes that we cannot fit the entire story of the Christian faith into a Sunday morning and so it does not try. In fact, the liturgical experts will tell you the services of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday are not three services, but one. We take three full days to reflect on the death and resurrection of our savior and even then we only skirt the edges of the mystery. There is a lesson in this.