My son, Elijah, is in a funk. “Leave me alone!” he yelled at his siblings, whose every movement he views as a ploy to annoy him. Separated now in his room, he lies on the bed sulking and pouting, grumbling under his breath about the unfairness of being eight years old. Normally, I would scold him. “Snap out of it!” I’d say. But today, I too am funky and on edge, and I lie down next to him fighting back tears of frustration. There are days I feel discouraged, there are moments I feel ambivalent, and then there are times when I almost feel lifeless. Like my spiritual pulse is scarcely discernable amidst the tragic disease of my stubborn defiance. I am beyond aware of the depths of the depravity in my soul.
I coasted some. I let down my guard, seeing the finish line in clear view up ahead. I foolishly reasoned I could take it from here and ran on my own toward Pascha. A morning, however, not guarded by prayer leaves a heart more vulnerable to assaults. Over time that unprotected heart, riddled with wounds from the arrows of sin and despair, can barely beat out its sheepish plea for a divine intervention. It is frightening, this taste of an existence without Christ. It is terrifying outside the will of God.
So here I am, crawling into Holy Week head bowed and eyes lowered. I have mourned my lack of life like Mary and Martha mourned Lazarus days buried, and now throw myself, stinking of decay, at the feet of the Church and its sacraments. The weeks of Lent stretch long enough to push us past our limits, to force us into the reality of an instinctive desire to make ourselves a priority. The days of fasting bring us quite appropriately and authentically to our knees. I have nothing to pour upon Christ’s holy shroud but a broken spirit, and a mustard seed worth of faith that this offering will not be despised.
When I think of those present, waving palm branches and shouting praises, I am struck by the difficulties they must have endured. How certain they were that triumphant relief was theirs through this future king passing by on a donkey. How enormously disappointing to watch that Hope suffer, naked and bloodstained on a cross. They, too, tasted of bereavement through their preconceived notions of salvation being crushed before rising again. Just as I forget that violence and grace coexist until my time here is over, until through physical death I attain, by God’s mercy, the victory of life everlasting.
I am anxious for the opportunity to bury myself with Christ - my weak self, my old self, and my resistant self so sickened with discontent. I am anxious to enter the sepulcher of my Savior, where all of us are equally dead; the strong and the weak both equally in need of a miracle to pull us out of this mess. During Holy Week, I will have no doubts that my fasting, my prayer, or my lack thereof, did not earn or deny me a chance to be resurrected. Because this silver lined burial can’t be bought or lost with appropriate behavior. Only those aware of their hopeless state, and who see no other way for deliverance outside the crucifixion will experience the triumphant relief in a stone rolled away from the tomb.
Already, my ears are aching for St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal Homily:
And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour,
Let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.
For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour,
Will accept the last even as the first.
He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour,
Even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.
And He showeth mercy upon the last,
And careth for the first;
And to the one He giveth,
And upon the other He bestoweth gifts.
And He both accepteth the deeds,
And welcometh the intention,
And honoureth the acts and praises the offering.
Oh, me, of little faith “snap out of it” and rejoice!