The Day of Resurrection

It has been an odd Lent and Paschal season for us. We did not go to church – too ill – we did not keep the fast – too ill – we did nothing outside home during Holy Week – too ill. It seemed to take all my strength to just keep the household moving forward, or at least staying in one place; bills paid, housework done, laundry washed, dried, folded, ironed. Meals were, more or less, cooked. We survived, in our isolated valley way.

Rather than mourning the loss of the cycle of the lenten season, I was just grateful that we had a home, some savings to pay the doctor and the pharmacist, a little cushion to get us the extra petrol and groceries we needed.  I had plans – they fell through. I had goals – they weren’t met. And yet I am grateful, and peaceful, and happy.

I posted the painting above, The Resurrection, by Piero della Francesco, because it is a puzzling image. It is dawn; the Roman guards are asleep outside the tomb in which Jesus of Nazareth was buried – why should they stay awake? They are guarding a dead man. He won’t cause any disturbance, will he? And the disciples who were purportedly plotting to steal the body – they are just idle fisherman from Galilee, long gone home, hiding until the heat is off. This isn’t a triumphant warrior Jesus; this isn’t a winged Messiah, vaulting into the air from his victory over death and hell. There is no flash in his eye, no lordly gestures. There are no angels. He has simply arisen. He holds his banner as if he is using it as a staff to aid his posture, stretching out the cramped muscles that have lain so long on cold stone. He is marked with the horrors of the crucifixion, and yet he is calm, and focussed.

He has passed through not only the valley of the shadow of death, but the pit of death itself. He has surpassed the Passion; He has conquered all of sin. He gazes out at us with an inscrutable gaze. There is nothing more for Him to see but Life.

In a moment He will step up fully on the broken tomb, He will blaze forth in glory that cannot be contained under earth. The heathen soldiers will run in fear, running to a charge of desertion but perhaps just deserting; Rome is not gentle or forgiving.

I expect that He blessed them as they fled, sparing them the cold justice of Pilate. I hope that they made their way home to Gaul, and Iberia and the banks of the Tiber.

I did not grieve and weep over the broken body this year. I had no Pieta in my heart. I am confident of His conquest of death.

He is risen.

Alleluia.
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast, Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia. Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him. The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all;
but the life he lives, he lives to God. So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia. Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

(Pascha Nostrum)

Lent and Fasting

 

“What are giving up for Lent?” 

I’ve heard it every year for – oh, a long time – and sometimes people will (a little smugly) tell me that they aren’t giving up anything, they are adding a discipline. Which is not the point of a fast. Add a discipline if you want – but keep the fast anyway.

Lent and Advent are the traditional fasting seasons in the Church. (Some add more days of fasting.) And fasting means – giving up something. Giving up a lot. Just staying away from Chips-Ahoy cookies isn’t a fast.

This is a fast: No meat, dairy, eggs, alcohol or fats for the whole fasting season. Two meals a day, nothing more. Yes, from Ash Wednesday to after the Easter (Pascha) service. There are little exceptions; fats and wine are allowed on Seventh and First Day (Saturday and Sunday). Yes, this means no Guiness on St. Patrick’s Day, nor Irish stew, nor corned beef and cabbage. You can have the potatoes, onion and carrot, and the cabbage, though.

When we could we have kept this strict fast. It usually means losing about ten to twenty pounds. We don’t keep it if we are ill or have a lot of physical work to do, in which case we modify it somewhat, keeping some fats and eggs or some dairy. One has to be sensible about the fast, but not make excuses for avoiding or breaking it. This year we are keeping in eggs and olive oil because of my recent illnesses.

We eat beans, brown rice, all vegetables, bread and other grains – which for us is oatmeal. Russians eat buckwheat or kasha. Quinoa, amaranth, and wild rice are also good choices. We use a bit of seasoning, especially nutritious herbs, but the idea is that it is just food, not something to please our taste buds.

It is a way to deny the sensuality of this world for a season, to remind us that God is with us and provides all for our good. We want more than just that good – we want pleasures that may not be good for us, as so many of us find with food. I hear younger women – and some my age – say how hard it is to give up the supermarket indulgences as they look for nutritious and economical food choices for their families. If anyone is beginning to feel the sticker shock at the grocery checkout, now is a season to get used to some changes, to shop better, to eat better, to live closer to the earth.

I shop once before Lent, and buy all the beans, rice, dried foods, winter vegetables and supplements we may need. This year I have black beans, pinto beans, garbanzos, lentils and split peas, with rice and bulgur wheat. We have three kinds of flour. I bought potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips, apples and cabbage, with ginger and garlic for seasoning. I have some bottled tomato sauce. Since I will be using eggs we can have homemade noodles. We will use up the cheese in the next week.

Is this hard? Yes, it is, but it is not supposed to be easy. It is a discipline. We will pray for strength in this Lenten journey. I will try to be more diligent in my prayer and study. We will anticipate the great Vigil of Pascha and the remembrance that Jesus Christ not only died for us, He rose from death to defeat death for us.

Passion or Palms?

I’ve mentioned before that I loathe the palm processions. The old Books of Common Prayer emphasized the passion narratives of the gospels; the Canadian BCP used the Matthew passion. (I note that it is called Palm Sunday as an afterthought in the BCP; it is officially “The Sunday next before Easter.”) So by 1960 the palms had been integrated into general practice. Passion Sunday technically is the Sunday preceding Palm Sunday, when the foreshadowing of the passion begins in the gospel readings.

The purpose is to begin the long narratives of Holy Week. It was expected that the faithful would attend divine service every day in Holy Week, not just on the Sunday next before, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The ancient pattern was to intensify fasting in Holy Week, eating just unseasoned foods and dry bread, and all local feasts suspended, while attending the daily services. I would expect that most of the ancient practices included no eucharist (communion) until Maundy Thursday, or the commemoration of the last Supper, and then no sacrament was reserved. (Many churches, following a more modern Roman practice, have reserved sacrament from the Maundy Thursday service for Holy Saturday.) From the last Thursday servcie until midnight or daybreak on Holy Saturday, no food at all was taken, one of the most solemn fasts in the church year. In the most traditional churches, this is still the case. (Yes, Anglicans, this means you.)

The church would be swept and scrubbed clean, any altar linens to be used at the Pascha (Easter) vigil (the long, late night service to greet the dawn) would be mended, cleaned and pressed. Priests would be in their best vestments for the Pascha, parishioners would dress in their finest. Houses were readied, and the feast preparations begun. New candles all round were essential to the Pascha service.

While the Protestant west has Sunday morning services for Easter, most of the world still has the Great Vigil beginning late Saturday night. Some Anglican jurisdictions have restored the Vigil to its proper place. More should.

Oh, back to those palms. why do I hate them?

First, they are costly. They may not be very expensive in terms of dollars, but they are shipped from (wherever) and it isn’t someplace in Canada. I can just assume that they are sprayed with insecticides, fungicides and pesticides. They are, to the best of my knowledge, grown only for Palm Sunday use, rather than being part of a food-growing tree. Why are we doing this?

It’s the passion that we need to remember. Those people waving fronds ended up being hypocrites, calling for their triumphant messiah to be put to death. Are we joining their throng?

The gospel beginning at Matthew 27 says “When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus, to put him to death.” This is not the trumph yet! It is the bad news part! the entrance into Jerusalem isn’t mentioned at all in Holy Week.

I spuppose we would like to see ourselves among the excited throng, welcoming the messiah, but I hope we would have more sense than that. They were looking for a military leader,not a condemned criminal. They wanted King David, not a prophet about to die in Jerusalem. It is the core irony of the passion narrative, that the triumphal entry leads to death not an earthly vistory. For the victory was so much more than victory over an enemy; it was the final and complete victory over death in which we will share.

The joy of the entry into Jerusalem is an austere joy, an ecstacy that is more like pain. The journey is not over for pilgrims, but the we know our destinnation.

On Lent

The season of Lent as preparation for Easter began in the third century, with St. Iranaeus; it was probably established as a fast of a day or more in local churches. The word “Lent” that we use is from the Anglo-Saxon word for spring. The churches kept Lent as a time of increased prayer and scripture reading. it was the last phase of catechism for those wishing to be baptized at Easter.

Lent is now the forty days before Easter, or Pascha. In the eastern churches Lent ends with the Vigil of Pascha, which starts at midnight on the Saturday preceding Easter, the end of Holy Week. While Lent is a time of fasting, Holy Week is a time of concentrated preparation for Easter, with special prayer services and scripture readings.

Must a Christian fast before Easter? Traditionally, and by church law or canon, the answer is yes. Most Protestants do not keep the fast, however, reflecting the scriptural passage that the guests do not fast while the bridegroom is with them. Most of the “Jerusalem” or high churches would disagree, saying that Jesus meant only while He was physically on earth were the disciples exempt from fasting.

Certainly, fasting from foods was an expectation in the apostolic church at the proper seasons, or for reasons of prayer. The forty days of Lent were not established until the fourth century, and may have arisen from a misreading of the historian Eusebius, who was commenting on a forty hour fast. Nonetheless, the forty day fast became established, to remember the forty day fast of Jesus in the wilderness.

Christians are never expected to abstain from all nourishment for extended periods of time, and water is allowed in all periods of fasting or abstention.

In our century, fasting from food is less common; some churches interpret or allow fasting from activities if that is more practical. Families might abstain from watching television or going to movies. (In centuries past, the theatres were closed in Lent.) Others may use the time of Lent to give up a bad habit such as smoking or gambling. Any fast or abstention must be accomplished with prayer, scripture and the support of the church community. One should at least confide in one’s minister or priest as to the form of abstention one wishes to undertake.

Fasting is not atonement for our sins; it is discipline so that we may strnegthen our souls, bodies, minds and spirits against the onslaught of evil and temptation. it is for our benefit, not God’s.

Please let me know if you need support and prayers in your Lenten journey. I will keep confidentiality if you request.

Enjoy a blessed Lent! Christ is coming!