The Time of Preparation
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 6:21 AM [+]
We are fast approaching it. Sure, all of Lent is such a time, but as we draw nearer the preparations become overt and tangible. One of my favorite aspects of this time is the profound sense of community that is made manifest and also how our focus is shifted by the work to be done and the length, frequency, and solemnity of services. In my experience it becomes a week or more when earthly cares truly do almost cease...the insanity of the world fades and almost vanishes. This is REALLY timely as everyone gets their passions riled up to fight the government budget battle in the online version of jousting windmills. It should quite a show and I'm not at all unhappy to miss it.
There will be neither time nor desire to hear or comment upon the "latest." In some ways it's as if we are raptured and returned - perhaps changed, renewed, and refocused? For me the upcoming time of preparation calls out for a calibration of myself and to seek that which is needful and not wantfull. Oddly this time of preparation with all it's outward self-denial, feels so wonderfully rich and joyful even to the extent that we actually look forward to the labor it entails. We long for it. God knows we need it.
In the 4th century a Gallic woman by the name of Egeria made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She documented these travels in a text that partially survives today and can be found here. Her account of Holy Week begins in section 63 and certainly demonstrates with only a focus upon services that being busy is nothing new. And it is overall a wonderful account that sometimes makes us think we have it easy in our "lengthy" services and "busy" week.
Bottling, cooking, egg coloring, gifts, choir practice, floral arrangements, church cleaning, house cleaning, decorations, special clothes, innumerable services ridden with gloriously unique liturgics, and all of it culminating in a funeral for God, all night Lamentations at His tomb, and then the glorious revelation that the deceased could not possibly remain so!
But amidst what may appear to be hustle and bustle there is a very serious degree of quiet and self-reflection. Even brief times of emptiness, it seems, are immediately filled with contemplation of the particular day and it's events we are commemorating. And a bit of emotionalism is not out of order as Egeria notes with regard to Holy Friday:
And when the sixth hour has come, they go before the Cross, whether it be in rain or in heat, the place being open to the air, as it were, a court of great size and of some beauty between the Cross and the Anastasis; here all the people assemble in such great numbers that there is no thoroughfare. The chair is placed for the bishop before the Cross, and from the sixth to the ninth hour nothing else is done, but the reading of lessons, which are read thus: first from the psalms wherever the Passion is spoken of, then from the Apostle, either from the epistles of the Apostles or from their Acts, wherever they have spoken of the Lord's Passion; then the passages from the Gospels, where He suffered, are read. Then the readings from the prophets where they foretold that the Lord should suffer, then from the Gospels where He mentions His Passion. Thus from the sixth to the ninth hours the lessons are so read and the hymns said, that it may be shown to all the people that whatsoever the prophets foretold of the Lord's Passion is proved from the Gospels and from the writings of the Apostles to have been fulfilled. And so through all those three hours the people are taught that nothing was done which had not been foretold, and that nothing was foretold which was not wholly fulfilled. Prayersalso suitable to the day are interspersed throughout. The emotion shown and the mourning by all the people at every lesson and prayer is wonderful; for there is none, either great or small, who, on that day during those three hours, does not lament more than can be conceived, that the Lord had suffered those things for us.
Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection...