Lent ends today; or more correctly, this is the last, full day of Lent. Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, and tomorrow night at sunset, Lent gives way to the Triduum…to the three days that are the culmination of Lent.
Tomorrow night, Christian around the world will commemorate the Last Supper, the final Passover meal that Jesus ate with His disciples in the Upper Room. At the commencing of that meal, we are told that he removed His outer garment, took a basin of water, and then washed and dried the feet of all His disciples in sign and symbol of how they–and we–are to be with one another. Taking up his outer garment again, He sat with them at table, instructing them, counseling them, preparing them for what the next few hours were to bring.
Then, taking the bread from the table, He broke it and gave it to them, saying the words: Take, Eat. This is my body broken for you. After that, taking up the cup, He gave it to them saying: This is my blood shed for you. Drink you all of it. After that, they left together for the Garden, where He would pray until such time as the betraying Judas and the Temple guards would come looking for Him, and the events of Black Friday would at last be set in motion.
Tomorrow at sundown, Christians will gather in their churches and holy places to read those words again. Some of them will also stop and wash one another’s feet in re-enactment of what the Christ Himself did. All of them will observe the Lord’s Supper together. Then, in stark silence, those serving at the altar will clear away the vessels that have held the wine and bread. They will take such bits and pieces of consecrated bread and wine as may be left and lock them out of both sight and reach in a niche or sanctuary in the chancel wall.
They will clear away next all the cloths and fair linen that have draped the altar, bringing basins of water to wash the altar down, as people watch, many of them crying. No part of the sacred meal may be left. All trace of it must be obliterated. The altar of God’s presence is closed while all of Heaven and earth together mourn what is being recalled. Last, the priest or pastor extinguishes the sanctuary light or lamp. It will not burn again until the Easter Vigil when, just after midnight, the cry will go up: He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Between those two things–between the extinguishing of the Sanctuary lamp and the Easter cry of resurrection, there will be no music played in sacred space. There will be masses said, no weddings celebrated, no baptisms performed, no funerals conducted. The Church has lost her Lord to death, and she can neither be nor do without His sanctifying presence.
Friday, Christians will keep vigil, reading and praying both in their homes and, by rotation, in their sacred places. Many will gather with one another from noon on Friday until three o’clock in order to keep watch with Him during the last three hours of agony on the cross. By three o’clock, though, He has cried, “It is finished,” and there will no more. There will be nothing. Nothing until the midnight which heralds the coming of Easter.
I will be here in this place with you as we enter the Triduum, but I will not speak then of Lenten things. Nor will I be able to say then, as I still can today, how much I have treasured this time with you and how deeply I have appreciated your comments and e-mails and notes. It is a good thing that we should have walked Lent’s long weeks together, and I am grateful. I won’t be talking here after the Triduum and Easter Sunday, obviously, but I hope you will join me from time to time at www.allthewordsofjesus.com . The commentary there, though hardly daily, concerns itself with the Sayings of Our Lord, just as the web-site’s url suggests and–most important–everyone’s contribution to the conversation can be heard and shared there.