Friday, April 18, 2014

The Naked Altar: Maundy Thursday, 2014

Let the marathon begin.

Tonight marks the start of the period called the Triduum (I'm told it's pronounced "TRIJ-oo-um"), the three Holy Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter (which begins with the Easter Vigil usually late Saturday or very early Sunday morning).  For me, these are typically days of deep reflection and examination.  A sort of reckoning.  

This was my first time experiencing Maundy Thursday at St. Thomas in Thomasville, and the first time I'd participated in an adult choir singing at the service.  It ended up being a rather intimate time complete with the foot washing and the Eucharist.  Interesting that the collect emphasizes the latter, while the Gospel lesson emphasizes the former.  Our priest, Fr. Varas, made the point that the words of institution said at the Eucharist, "Do this in remembrance of me," should also be in our heads as we participated in ritual footwashing.  Just as with the Eucharist, cleanse the feet of your fellow parishioner and think, "Do this in remembrance of me." 

Those words stayed with me toward the end of the service.  After the Communion hymn, the choir was instructed to fan out among the congregation for the singing of "Sing my tongue, the glorious battle" done a cappella.  The cross, and the reserved sacrament, were processed around us as we sang.  As the final note was trailing off, the altar guild, half of whom were choir members, ascended the steps and began the ritual stripping of the altar.  Candle sticks, torches, crucifix, fair linen:  all taken away.  I kept waiting for someone to lead us in Psalm 22.  Certainly, someone would start that.  

No. We were to sit, facing forward, and watch all the finery go away.  

For me, this was the most moving part of the service.  I have been struck before when the altar is stripped.  But the enforced silence made it even more powerful to witness.  And it served as the metaphorical reminder that the process of Lent for me is one of a stripping away until we come to Good Friday and I am faced with seeing what has been hidden within me.  It is truly humbling.  

There was a ripping sound.  Apparently, the altar cloth is secured by Velcro.  That jarring noise recalled for me the way that Jesus is stripped of his clothes before his execution.  Our artists have always given our Lord some modesty by depicting him with a loin cloth on the cross.  But if the Scripture is to be believed, he wasn't even granted that dignity.  He was naked.  And now, so are we who witness this ritual.  I felt that way.

To be reconciled to God is to strip away all illusions of control and to trust that the promise given, "Remember I am with you always until the end of the age," is true.  Even as the hour of His ritual death approaches.

Do this in remembrance of me.  

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