Saturday, March 31, 2018

Sabbatum Sanctum

Sabbatum Sanctum, Holy Saturday, known also Great Saturday, the Great Sabbath, Black Saturday, Joyous Saturday, or Easter Eve, is that day long deep breath between Christ's death and resurrection.

It doesn't get the same liturgical attention as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or Easter Sunday, because, formally speaking, nothing happens.

Epitaphios - Tapestry depicting Christ's burial,
used in the Great Saturday liturgy.

Jesus' friends laid him hurriedly in the tomb Friday in advance of sunset and Sabbath. And then they laid low. The gospels go silent until Sunday morning, about 36 hours later.

Any and all the action is off-stage, buried in the ground, hidden behind the stone, shrouded in the Great Mystery.

Tradition has not been able to be as silent as the gospels and has filled in the blanks with two competing stories. The Matins Canon of Holy and Great Saturday has a tone of watchful expectation, with Jesus observing Sabbath rest.
    Today Thou dost keep holy the seventh day,
    Which Thou has blessed of old by resting from Thy works.
    Thou bringest all things into being and Thou makest all things new,
    Observing the Sabbath rest, my Savior, and restoring strength.

A more militant story has Jesus breaking open the gates of Hell and bringing the dead out of captivity to to paradise.

This is, of course, something the church believes as true. In the Great Vigil of Easter, the Church will sing the Pascal Troparion:
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

We live post-Easter. Thankfully, we cannot un-see or un-know that wonderful news which we have embraced.

Yet Great Saturday is an opportunity to reflect on that moment where we cannot see God's plan. Whatever was going on behind the scenes, to the world it looked like yet another troublemaker put down. The devil wants you to know that resistance is futile. "March all you want, but I can and will kill you with impunity. Your best hope is to submit." These temptations (really threats) are the same whether from the Roman Empire or the Domination System of this age.

It's a choice that takes your breath away. Can we trust just a little longer? Can we dare to hope in the face of fear?

    With the Lord on my side I do not fear.
    What can mortals do to me?
    The Lord is on my side to help me;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. Psalm 118:6-7

Two thousand years ago, everyone buried Jesus. To this day, there are forces which would prefer this inconvenient God to keep silent and make no demands. Can we be faithful and not abandon the reality of God's blessing? Can we be faithful just another day? Can we deny the devil no matter how strong its position seems? Keep your eyes on the prize, and hold on. The dawn is coming.

    You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
    you are my God, I will extol you.
    O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 118:28-29

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saint Patrick

There is probably no way to tease apart the Patrick of history and that of legend. What is certain is that he, with Saint Bridget, was one of the key leaders of the church which established Christianity in Ireland.

One of the more compelling parts of his story is that he was a slave who escaped Ireland, and later returned to spread the gospel of Christ. Patrick's Confessio tells that his time in captivity was critical to his spiritual development and embrace of Christianity. He also tells that while a captive, he worked as a shepherd, prefiguring his later work as bishop. The legend is challenged, and he and his family may have been slave-owners and slaver-traders, something which was prevalent in Ireland at the time, and permitted and regulated by the Church. ("Was St. Patrick really a slave trader and tax collector?" by James O'Shea.) Whatever the truth, the tradition lifts up the hope of freedom.

What is not in dispute, is Patrick's emphasis on the Trinitarian faith of the Church: God in three undivided persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And the tradition has passed on prayers and hymns attributed to Patrick which boldly maintain the power of this interlocking Trinity.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

But the Patrick tradition goes even further, seeing the life of God as all-encompassing, transcendent and imminent. He calls upon every attribute of God, every power, wrapped in the centrality of Christ, to protect and strengthen the believer in a turbulent world.

May the Strength of God guide us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Angels of God guard us.
    – Against the snares of the evil one.
May Christ be with us!
May Christ be before us!
May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all!
May Thy Grace, Lord,
Always be ours,
This day, O Lord, and forevermore.