Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Marathon

Forty days of Lent. A long fast, filled with services. The initial burst of energy, clean week, as everything is wiped clean for a new beginning.

Then settling into a steady pace, Liturgy, Compline, Presanctified, Akathist. Liturgy, Compline, Presanctified, Akathist. Can't you just hear the pounding of feet to that rhythm, as we each run this annual race.
The runner looks for signs, to mark progress, to mark off the miles, and the church offers us many. The first few miles pass quickly.

The midpoint arrives, and the cross is set before us, a reminder of which direction we should be running, a reminder of why we are running this race.

Exhaustion sets in as we pass weeks 4 and 5. Then we see the Holy Mary of Egypt before us, urging us on, encouraging us by her example. A brief refreshment, as we celebrate the Annunciation, a cool drink for parched throats. Then it is upon us. The final week, the final sprint to the finish line, a fresh burst of energy as the speed of the race picks up - 17 services starting on Lazarus Saturday. The exhaustion, the excitement, the anticipation.

The preparation. "For behold, the bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is the man whom He shall find awake." The bright sadness. The end in sight. Each day, the kids question, "how many more days?"

That we may be accounted worthy to hear the Holy Gospel.

A dark church, morning and evening. The intense burden of the Passion service, reminding each of us that it is we who nailed Him on the tree. As the pounding of the hammer echoes, I flinch. Every year, I wait for it, know it is coming, wonder how heavy the hammer must feel in Father's hands, and I flinch. Because it is I who put Him there. The hot tears fall as we kneel together in the darkness.

"Today He is suspended on a tree who suspended the earth over the waters."
Friday, a day of mourning, preparing the tomb of Christ. "Let the little children come to Me". And they come. They come offering their gifts of flowers, adorning His tomb, the heavy, heady scent of roses and lilies mingle with the incense. "I cried out unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path." His body is brought down from the cross, He is laid in the tomb.
Yet, the race is not over. Thankfully, it is not the end. The lilt of the lamentations, grief mixed with joy for what is to come, bright sadness. Tonight in the dark, we offer roses and hymns to Thee.

"In a grave they laid Thee, O my life and my Christ; and the armies of the angels were sore amazed, as they sang the praise of Thy submissive love."

The tomb, never abandoned; all through the night, soft quiet voices intone, praying the Psalms and censing His tomb.

Then the sun rises, and we come together once again. Just as in clean week, we juxtapose the heavy presence of death with the beauty of new life, as two little ones are baptized, and four chrismated into union with us.

"Brethren, all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."

The cloths, for so long dark, purple stain, now shine bright white - for we are almost to the end, or rather the beginning. The dead, shriveled petals of the evening before are covered by showers of fresh scented bay leaves. Sticks pound, death is beaten down. Hades is groaning. " It took a body, and face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen! "O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?" It is coming. The burden is lighter now, made light by bread and wine, fellowship and flowers, joy and anticipation.

Sleepy children are awakened in the night, carried into church in the dark. All is quiet, all is anticipation. One strong voice sings out, Come, take light, from the light, that is never overtaken by night. The church is slowly lit, as one candle becomes many, as each shares the Light with others. We have arrived. The last stretch is here, and our bodies no longer feel the pain, the exhaustion, only joy at arriving at the finish line - the bells peal, the King of Glory enters, and all is light. And yet, for me, it is a different moment this year. A child falls ill moments before the Paschal candle is lit, and suddenly the race takes a different turn. Sadness fills my heart, as I realize I am not going to be in there. My husband and I alternately care for a sick baby and sneak moments of the liturgy. I feel somehow cheated. It's not fair. That is what I was thinking. How selfish. Apparently this race has not done enough to humble me. I ran the race, I wanted to be at the finish line, to share fully in the glory, the joy, to stand in the winner's circle with the faithful. But, it is not about me. It is not about my experience. Christ is Risen, whether this poor sinner was present or not. I think of the pain others have experienced at this time of year, the losses. Even at this moment my heart is heavy for old friends mourning the loss of a daughter, wife, mother, a new mother who never got to hold her little one, but instead ran her Lenten race for the last time, leaving this earth on Bright Monday. Yet, "Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tomb!" It does not matter that circumstances prevented me from crossing the finish line this year in body. My heart was there.


elizabeth said...

Christ is Risen!!

beautiful post. love to you!

Christ is Risen!

GretchenJoanna said...

I think you *did* cross the finish line. Christ is risen indeed!

Anonymous said...

The goal at the finish line is union with Christ and the divine services are a means to reach the goal. But God can provide other means and since His goal is our heart, it seems to me that you were there at the empty Tomb with us all.

Christ is Risen, dear friend.

Michelle M. said...

Indeed He is Risen!

What a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing this.

DebD said...

Christ is Risen! What lovely memories of the whole experience. Thank you for sharing your own thoughts.

Christine said...

You most certainly were present ! What a beautiful post. I read your blog often and am not normally one to comment - but the post was wonderful. I really empathize with your feeling at the very end of the race...as both of my children fell ill as well. With my husband serving in the altar, I spent much time back and forth to the Narthex calming, ssshhing, etc. At first, I felt "cheated" in a way too. But God is awesome and knows our needs and always provides opportunities for us to further ourselves in our journey to salvation. Motherhood is a part of our askesis, our struggle. It's not always easy to remember that when you want to be quietly standing in the Church fully participating, but it IS important for us to remember.

Christ is Risen!

Thank you for this lovely post - and for all of your lovely posts.