Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

GOOD FRIDAY, the most solemn and bleak day of the liturgical year, a day of bitter darkness, for we have crucified Our Lord, and so are guilty of the crime of Deicide. During the Office of Tenebrae, the readings warn us impending chastisement and destruction, due to our evil, unrepentant ways, particularly in the books of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, and in the choice of Psalms. Over the course of the liturgy, the many candles we find near the altar are snuffed out, one by one, symbolizing this greatest of crimes, increasing our fear of just judgement upon us. Do we really want justice? Rather, we should tremble with fear knowing that true justice would require a severe punishment that we could not bear.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - view of crucifx in the darkness

Crucifix, depicting Christ dead on the cross, at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, illumined by the flame of a single candle, after the office of Tenebrae for Good Friday. There was hardly any light to take a photograph, and so this photographic image itself is battered and ugly. 
Your wickedness will chasten you, and your apostasy will reprove you.
Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God; the fear of me is not in you, says the Lord God of hosts.
For long ago you broke your yoke and burst your bonds; and you said, ‘I will not serve.’
Yea, upon every high hill and under every green tree you bowed down as a harlot.
Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed.
How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?
Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, says the Lord God…

Why do you complain against me? You have all rebelled against me, says the Lord.
In vain have I smitten your children, they took no correction; your own sword devoured your prophets like a ravening lion.
And you, O generation, heed the word of the Lord. Have I been a wilderness to Israel, or a land of thick darkness?
Why then do my people say, ‘We are free, we will come no more to thee’?
Can a maiden forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire?
Yet my people have forgotten me days without number.
How well you direct your course to seek lovers!
So that even to wicked women you have taught your ways.
Also on your skirts is found the lifeblood of guiltless poor; you did not find them breaking in.
Yet in spite of all these things you say, ‘I am innocent; surely his anger has turned from me.’
Behold, I will bring you to judgment for saying, ‘I have not sinned.’…

— from Jeremiah 2; (RSVCE)
Then, as now, we say ‘I will not serve’ God and ‘I have not sinned,’ and we have shed the “lifeblood of guiltless poor.” Contemporary man lacks the fear of God and His justice, we believe that we are immune from God’s wrath:
The Lord has destroyed without mercy all the habitations of Jacob; in his wrath he has broken down the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; he has brought down to the ground in dishonor the kingdom and its rulers.

— Lamentations 2:2 (RSVCE)
That will never happen to us, we believe. But we forget that the ‘unintended consequences’ of our sins serve to punish us also: “Your wickedness will chasten you, and your apostasy will reprove you.” We break the laws of God, of our human nature, and of our relationship with Creation, and are surprised that this does not make us happy, but rather miserable. And so we create new laws, systems, technologies, and propaganda campaigns to overcome these, which leads to more consequences that lead to greater misery.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

— Jeremiah 2:12,13 (RSVCE)
Man, without God, is nothing, and left to his own devices, man reshapes himself into a vessel that is even incapable of sustaining himself, a ‘broken cistern.’

In the Office of Tenebrae, the candles are snuffed out one by one, until the final candle, representing Christ, is taken away for a while. Our Lord has been taken away and it is our fault. But the candle is brought back while it continues to burn. This tells us that while we ought to tremble in fear of God’s justice, we still have a glimmer of light to give us hope.

Ierusalem, Ierusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum! Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Return to the Lord your God!

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