in that great darkness
could I explain
anything at all.
--"Cows at Night", by Hayden Carruth
As we walked into Mass at the start of this Triduum, slowly, remembering that first Eucharist, we sang the lines:
draw us the nearer each to each, we plead, by drawing all to you, O Prince of Peace.
Suddenly, I felt my family here. They were gathered around the same table.
I felt the presence of the Liturgical Choir, and the Mass of the Lord's Supper.
I thought of my friend doing goodness knows what in Honduras.
I thought of churches in Chicago, churches in London.
I thought of Rome, and all the masses there.
I wondered a bit what their Holy Weeks had brought them: what they were thinking and feeling, but mostly I didn't have to wonder any of that, as I usually have to. At that moment, I knew what we were doing. I knew what this day was about for all of us: we were entering this story together.
Whatever other stories were occurring in their lives, I knew that these three days we were living the same story. All over the world, this story was being recreated together.
Each time I approach Holy Week, I feel that if I had the role in the story it would be Peter, who, when he sees his beloved threatened, is quick to resort to violence. He can hardly listen to when Christ tells him the Christ must suffer and die, Peter swears to follow him, Peter is sift like wheat. Peter's narrative of denial is recorded in all three Gospels, and if I were Peter, my ego would be certainly stung by that. Oooookay guys, we only found it necessary to write the Bread of Life narrative in one book, like literally the most insane and revolutionary thing Jesus ever said, but I guess we all just have to jump on the story of That Time Peter Screwed Up, Don't We?
Just kidding, I'm sure he didn't say that, because after that moment of denial, of weeping in the dead of night, I'm sure his humility is stronger than mine, and he knew that all Christians ought to read that story: that story of forgiveness and hope overcoming his own weakness. For what excuse do we have after we face that story? Peter was not chosen as a leader because he had superior moral strength and courage, he was chosen because he was loved. At an hour of testing, he did what most of us would do: he flunked the test. If a ring of suspicious people circled about me, asking me if I had anything to do with this man they were beating up and sending speedily to his death, you can bet that my cowardice would kick in big time. My palms would get all sweaty, and that cold pit of fear would probably freeze any sort of heroic virtue I had inside of me.
But I, too, have no excuse. Because, after Peter lost his strength for goodness, he ran and sought forgiveness. After Peter fell, he turned and strengthened his brethren. Sometimes it is easier to wail and mourn and beat our breasts, and dwell on the sins that we have committed. Sometimes it is easier to wallow in our brokenness than get busy with the task of healing.
Growing up, I remember being shocked when the role I was allotted during the famously long Holy Week Gospel readings was to shout "Crucify Him! Crucify Him." The shock never diminished, even when I was no longer numbly calling it out with the parish nave, but singing it from the choir loft, the sweet notes hardly diminishing the stinging words. Why are we given this role? I wondered. How can I pretend to shout Cruficy Him! Crucify Him! when that is the exact opposite of what I want, of what I would say? And then, to speak this words: "Not this man, but Barabbas." How many times in my life do I turn my back on This Man and say: not you, but Barabbas. Not you, but this cheap imitation. Not you, but this sad and sorry alternative that is hardly appealing, except to my stubborn self and iron will.
But I am invited, each year, not to stay a member of the angry mob, but to become the Magdalene, hugging the foot of the cross, or Mary, picking Jesus up as he falls. We are allowed to put ourselves in the feet of John at the foot of the cross, holding Mary close. We are called to become the thief on the cross, asking to be remembered in Paradise. The story of the cross, the story of the paschal mystery is one of love conquering sin.
The love of the cross is deeper than any of our denials. And the love for which it thirsts--our love--can also triumph over all our tawdry, cowardly sins. At the end of the day, the cross no longer signifies the horror of death, of sin. No, now it is our glory. Now, the cross is our picture of victory. The symbol of death has been utterly transformed into a glorious image of love.