Thursday, 9 April 2009

In the Garden

Tonight the Mass of the Lord's Supper is celebrated, the watch begins and the altars are stripped. This last ceremony signifies the suspension of the holy sacrifice, until the daily offering can be again presented at the Paschal vigil. The Lord is about to be stripped of his garments and displayed naked before the world on the cross. An air of desolation pervades the sanctuary, as the tabernacle stands empty above the naked altar, which now exposes its five wounds (the five crosses cut into the altar) to the world. The sacred host has been removed to the altar of repose, where it awaits in the garden of Gethsemani for the coming of Judas and the soldiers in the middle of the night when we will have ended our vigil and be in bed, fast asleep. Judas left the Last Supper unremarked upon, what did his friends, with whom he had spent so much time, think he was doing and what did they think Jesus meant when he said 'whatever you are to do, do it quickly'? Seeing him appear again in the garden, by moonlight, must have been extraordinary, for he betrayed them all, their friendship and Jesus's life. No wonder most of them did not come to the cross, that Peter denied Christ and that they were legging it as fast as they could to Emmaus when Jesus stopped them, now risen from the dead.

That He can rise from the dead! There is the joy of faith, that it overcomes the world and transcends to another, greater level all the worries and problems of daily life. There is cause for joy in the garden of the night, when we wait with the Lord. Joy at what is to come and a solidarity with Him, a devoted comradeship in the garden, before the death and coming glory in which we find it hard to share in this life. That we look for the coming of the Kingdom here and now is testament to our belief in the Kingdom and our knowledge of its - not joys - but absolute necessity to humanity.

On Palm Sunday, the people came as close to seeing the Messiah they wanted as it was possible to get. Today we see the greater triumphal entrance, the entrance into the Passion and saving death of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are we who are called to His supper, that we may bring about the coming of His Kingdom for the salvation of the world and the saving of souls.

Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is compos'd of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow
To ev'ry Corporation.
The humble soul compos'd of love and fear
Begins at home, and lays the burden there,
When doctrines disagree,
He says, in things which use hath justly got,
I am a scandal to the Church, and not
The Church is so to me.

True Christians should be glad of an occasion
To use their temperance, seeking no evasion,
When good is seasonable;
Unless Authority, which should increase
The obligation in us, make it less,
And Power itself disable.
Besides the cleanness of sweet abstinence,
Quick thoughts and motions at a small expense,
A face not fearing light:
Whereas in fulness there are sluttish fumes,
Sour exhalations, and dishonest rheums,
Revenging the delight.

Then those same pendant profits,
which the spring
And Easter intimate, enlarge the thing,
And goodness of the deed.
Neither ought other men's abuse of Lent
Spoil the good use; lest by that argument
We forfeit all our Creed.
It's true, we cannot reach Christ's forti'eth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Saviour's purity;
Yet we are bid, 'Be holy ev'n as he,
'In both let's do our best.

Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
That travelleth by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn and take me by the hand, and more:
May strengthen my decays.
Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast,
As may our faults control:
That ev'ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlour; banqueting the poor,
And among those his soul.

George Herbert