North American culture sterilizes a great deal of fundamental human experience; the messiness of human existence is pushed into corners of professional purview—sickness, death, aging, disability—relegated to hospitals, nursing homes, group homes, funeral homes … away from the simple “home” of family. We may forget how lucky we are to be able to switch off the horrors of current wars when we switch off the evening news.
Perhaps this North American complacency contributes to the widespread acceptance of assisted suicide in Canada today. We are led to feel entitled to avoid death’s anguish and, ostensibly, control our mortality. We are led to expect that a good life must be easy, pain free, comfortable. Perhaps this is why we so easily blame God for ignoring us when times are rough and believe God is with us when things go our way. The Church, on the other hand, points to another reality, one that can resonate more closely to our common experience as human beings.
Throughout Lent, we’ve been asked to face honestly our relationship with ourselves, our world, our God. As we enter into Holy Week, we plunge into the crucible of human existence.
Passion week is not an anniversary of a nasty event in one young man’s life. It is a communal confrontation of human agony. Christ’s passion outlines the pain of betrayal, cruelty, injustice, torment, hatred, victimization. We face the terror that surrounds our own lives. What is the point?
We see that through Christ’s example, evil loses its grip on our being. In the liturgies of Holy Week, darkness is illuminated with the light of the Resurrection. All sorrow and suffering is penetrated with hope. We are enfolded in the assurance of Love. The love that we are to manifest in the world does not eliminate darkness. Love does not eliminate pain. Love gives life meaning; love creates caring; love creates possibility. Passion Thursday Liturgies exemplify the intermingling of joy and sorrow.
On this day we recall the Tajna Vechera, Christ’s Passover meal with the Apostles, the washing of feet, the agony in Gethsemane, and the betrayal by Judas. On Thursday evening we begin the services of Great Friday with the 12 Gospel readings of “Strasty” (suffering) (the Gospel readings: John 13:31-18:1; John 18:1-29; Matthew 26:57-75; John 18:28-19:16; Matthew 27:3-32; Mark 15:16-32; Matthew 27:33-54, Luke 23:32-49; John 19:25-37; Mark 15:43-47; John 19:38-42; Matthew 27:62-66). In some churches a procession symbolically depicts Christ carrying the cross to Golgotha.
On Thursday morning, we celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil. Every Divine Liturgy is Easter—a joyous thanks for hope, life, salvation. We recall the astonishing act of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. It is hard to imagine a contemporary analogy.
We might imagine a supervisor at work, someone in a superior position to us, arriving on our doorstep asking to scrub our bathrooms. Imagine. Christ’s literal lowering of himself to clean dirt from the tired, sweaty, (possibly smelly) feet of his followers demonstrates how darkness is conquered: caring, kindness, generous selflessness—in a word—love. This action not only models reverence to those we serve, but also humble acceptance by those being served.
Thus, during the Passover meal again Christ shows that life is sustained through our giving of ourselves to others. His physical self, given in service to others, is as much nourishment for our
being as bread and wine. We too are asked to follow his example.
Can we imagine a world where we care so much about each other that we’d happily wash another’s feet?