Good Friday: Part I

THoly Trintiy Crucifixhe Noon to 3 PM service at Holy Trinity was based on St. Bonaventure’s “Office of the Passion of the Lord.”  Some of the meditations were musical and three were spoken–loosely reflecting on the particular “Hour” and the themes of the day.  

You can listen to the three reflections below:

Reflection on the Office of Lauds

This service, The Office of the Passion of the Lord, feels like it’s really composed of 8 offices. To speak of an “office,” comes from the Latin word meaning “duty” or “service.” In the Hebrew scriptures, the priests of Aaron were to offer morning and evening sacrifices.  When these stopped being animals, the priest would offer a “sacrifice of praise” to God.  Psalm 119 says, “Seven times a day do I praise you, because of your righteous judgments,” (v. 146), and from the time of St. Benedict in the 6th century, onward, monastic communities often did just that:  they paused from work and study in order to pray to God, seven times a day, or sometimes eight.  Matins might be said at Midnight, and sometimes was called Nocturns.  Lauds would be said in the wee hours or at dawn, usually.  Prime referred to the “first hour”, often about 6 AM.  Terce referred to the third hour, so if the first hour was at six, the third would be at 9 AM.  Sext, the sixth hour, would be at Noon. None (which sounds like Noon, but isn’t) would be at about 3 PM, Vespers or Evening Prayer at 6 PM, and Compline or night prayer at about 9 PM.

If one is familiar with the Book of Common Prayer, one recognizes that our prayer book retains forms for Morning Prayer, Noon Day Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline.

We have just said the Office of Lauds, or Morning Prayer.  The psalms historically said at the beginning of the day are psalms of praise, repeating the word, “laudate,” or praise, over and over again.

The Gospels tell how Jesus sometimes got up very early in the morning to go out and pray.

The early morning is a strange time.  As the sun rises, nature awakens. The sun offers reassurance.  Another day, darkness will not rule.

On the night before the Crucifixion, Jesus asked his disciples to pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane.  They fell asleep. The Gospel of John says that the police, the chief priests and he Pharisees all come to the Garden with lanterns, and torches and weapons—so we know it was either nighttime or early morning.

Morning plays a pregnant part in one of my favorite poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins.  Hopkins had just finished three years in theological college, so perhaps not so surprising is that while the poem entitled, “The Windhover” is at one level a poem about the bird of that name, it’s also about much more.  Carol Rumen, poetry critic for The Guardian, points out,

Christ’s Passion is central to the poem, the core from which everything else spirals and to which everything returns. The plunge of the windhover onto its prey suggests not simply the Fall of man and nature, but the descent of a redemptive Christ into the abyss of human misery and cruelty. References to equestrian and military valour (the dauphin, the chevalier) evoke the Soldier Christ, a figure to be found in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola which Hopkins devotedly practised. The swoop of this hawk-like dove is essentially spiritual, of course. But the poem doesn’t forget or devalue the “sheer plod” of the farm-labourer – another alter ego …The earth is broken by the plough in order to flare gloriously again, and the warm colours suggest crops as well as Christ’s redemptive blood. Beyond that, we glimpse some other-worldly shining, a richness not of earth alone.  (The Guardian, April 5, 2010).

The poem is here:

The Windhover
To Christ Our Lord

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Morning always brings a double blessing.  The night is over and forgotten. What was done, was done.  But the new day stretches out in front, with possibility, with promise, with Resurrection.

Reflection on the Office of Terce

Terce is the third hour.  Counting from the Office of Prime at about 6 AM, Terce is prayed around 9 AM.  For many—especially in our city, 9 AM is mid-morning.  Early prayers have been said or not said, and we are well into the workday.  There are slow-walking people in front of us.  There are trains that move all too quickly just before we get to the platform.  And there are appointments, demands, and expectations – through all of which we do well to keep working, to keep moving, and to keep breathing. But if we are too busy, we can fail to notice patterns.

Terce reminds us of the pattern of three: the trinity.  The trinity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit which, as the Athanasian Creed reminds us is “one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.”  The Creed of Athanasius (tucked in the back of our Prayer Book) is a hymn to the Holy Trinity, as it drives the point home:

Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory
equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.

The pattern of three is worth noticing.

Three strangers appear to Abram and Sarai.  They are revealed to be angels of God, with good news that Abram and Sarai are going to be parents and grandparents and great-grandparents of a multitude of people—and so they are the forebears of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

Even as Christ dies on the cross, Peter is asked if he is a follower.  Three times, he’s asked.  And three times he denies knowing Jesus or being his disciple.

Mark’s Gospel notes the times of day for the Crucifixion:  the Third Hour; Darkness falls over the earth at the sixth hour (Noon), and at the Ninth Hour (3 PM), Jesus cries with a loud voice and gives up his spirit.

But the three-ness of God is not over.  After three days, the Resurrection.

By tradition, Jesus is believed to have died around the age of 33.

In John’s Gospel, after the Resurrection, Jesus appears to the disciples three times, and in that third appearance, Simon Peter is offered another chance for faith.
Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Jesus asks of Peter, and of us:  Do you love me?  Going once… going twice…. But the Good News is that the third time is not the last.  Jesus takes us by the hand and invites us to join in the divine dance that is the Holy Trinity.

Meister Eckhart, the wonderful fourteenth-century German Dominican mystic, asked

Do you want to know
what goes on in the core of the Trinity?
I will tell you.
In the core of the Trinity
the Father laughs
and gives birth to the Son.
The Son laughs back at the Father
and gives birth to the Spirit.
The whole Trinity laughs
and gives birth to us.

Good things come in threes.  The Unity of God comes in three.

Reflection on the Office of None

The office of “None,” or the ninth hour, is spelled “n-o-n-e.”  It looks like none, no one.  That afternoon on Mt. Calvary, it must have seemed as though almost none were paying attention.

One of the most interesting depictions of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder of Christ carrying the Cross.  It’s set in a huge landscape, with all kinds of things going on.  People are working.  People are talking.  There are pickpockets and peddlers. Children are playing around the edges, and in many ways, a first glance at the painting makes it seem like everyone is indifferent.  NO ONE is paying any attention.

When we walked the Stations of the Cross in Lent, at the Thirteenth Station we quoted Lamentations, “All you who pass by, behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow. My eyes are spent with weeping; my soul is in tumult; my heart is poured out in grief because of the downfall of my people.”

It can sometimes feel like the world passes the church by, the world passes us by, and no one notices.

But—back to that painting by Bruegel. Even though most of the world rolls right on by, the Virgin Mary, John, and the two other Marys wait, watch, and mourn.  In the painting, they are separated from the main events by being placed on a small, rocky plateau. They act out their own, apparently independent, drama, largely unnoticed by the figures behind them.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the SOMEONE who negates the NONE.  She notices.  She watches.  She waits, and prays, and keeps on loving.  As the first of those redeemed by Christ’s Resurrection, she joins the Communion of Saints in continuing to urge us on, so that we are never left alone.  Even when other pass by, even when it seems like none understand us, or get us, or like us, or even notice us— Mary our Mother watches and encourages.

T.S. Eliot points to the watchful faithfulness of the Blessed Virgin Mary, writing,

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

If Jesus died at the Sixth Hour, the Ninth Hour is truly the test of faith.  But with the Blessed Virgin Mary, John the Beloved, and the other Marys, we join the faithful of all time and place as we wait and watch in the promise of God’s unending Love.


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