As I contemplate the ‘shroud’ in the front of the church, my mind wonders what those first disciples and followers felt when Jesus was laid in the tomb. What could they have felt as they handled the crown of thorns, the nails, and the lifeless body of our Lord.
Good Friday is a time of reflection on the Crucifixion of Christ for all Christians. This year, as my family and I are preparing to receive Sacraments of Initiation in the Catholic Church, this Passion week and specifically Good Friday, has taken on a deep and powerful meaning.
I grew up learning to refer to this day as Good Friday in our Christian home. I cannot recall any other action or duty attached to the day other than our family planning which family member’s house Easter Dinner would be eaten at. Of course we made Easter eggs and when young, looked forward to the quintessential Easter basket full of chocolate and a few small toys.
As a Pentecostal Preacher, I had preached on the seven sayings of our Lord on Good Friday. I had organized prayer meetings for Good Friday. I had thought of ways to lead people to a more contemplative Good Friday. But now as I prepare for full communion in the Catholic church, I can rest in the tradition handed down; the tradition in the Byzantine Rite of the shroud being placed in the ‘tomb’ symbolically.
After all the Divine Liturgies I’ve been in at St. Melany’s, last night was the first I’ve been part of with no Communion. The absence of the communion brought an even greater reflection on how the disciples must have felt in the absence of Jesus as He was sealed up in the tomb.
When I was still Pastoring, our dear priest had lent me the precious shroud as I was teaching our church on early church history and liturgical traditions of the early church. I taught our church at the time about the procession and the shroud symbolizing the body of our Lord, the seriousness, the reflection and tradition. Last night, as I gazed across to the other catechumen from our old church, as we are all knelt, praying, singing, reflecting on the Sacrifice of Christ, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the Mercy and Grace extended to us by our Lord. We who were separated are now brought in, and this shroud is part of our story.
Last night was very symbolic of the unity and reconciliation happening as our group of former protestants comes into full communion in the life of the Trinity. St. Melany’s, our home parish, had St. Michael’s Ukrainian Church in a shared Vespers service. At the end of service, everyone takes turns coming forward to venerate the shroud. As people came forward, the parishioners from St. Michael’s sang ‘Jerusalem Matins‘. The service ended with everyone singing ‘Were You There?”. With no instruments helping, the voices of the faithful filled the parish with the lamenting song in verse. Everyone was knelt and it seemed all were contemplating our Crucified Lord.
As we gathered around the crown of thorns, the nails, the hammer, and more, it was like we were all there. We were gathered around our Lord in wonderment at His willing sacrifice. It seemed I was there as He was taken off the Cross and felt the need to embrace someone as I gazed on the Body of our Lord. I was overwhelmed with the compulsion to give my all to our Lord. I felt as though I could literally reach out and touch Him. I want to give Him my all, to join Him in every way. The reality of this evening’s coming liturgy hasn’t fully set it, as I can only imagine the wonder of receiving our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
This same Lord that gave Himself in Sacrifice for the sins of the world gave Himself to be spiritual food and nutrition for the faithful by giving Himself under the appearance of bread and wine.
Last night was amazing, but I can only imagine the heights we’ll soar to this evening as we receiving the Blessed Sacrament for the first time.