Christians, to the Paschal Victim offer your thankful praises.
Speak, Mary, declaring what thou sawest, wayfaring:
“Yea, Christ my hope is arisen; to Galilee he will go before you.”
Wipo of Burgandy.
On Good Friday, I sneaked back into Church to pray Evening Prayer by myself. Normally, the only light inside the nave is the red vigil candle that burns before the Tabernacle. I’ve always found that little perpetual light to be of great comfort, especially when you walk into the Nave at night. In darkness and amidst a creaky roof and a frightening HVAC system that seemingly turns on at random, the light shines. Sometimes, I like to think of it like Our Lord’s front porch light: he leaves it on for you when you get home a little too late.
But, since the Sacrament was entirely consumed at the Good Friday Liturgy, the red vigil candle was blown out and the door of the Tabernacle was left opened. If you wanted to, you could stand in front of the Tabernacle and gape like a fool, saying, “Ohhhh, so that’s what it looks like inside!” Then, in the middle of the floor in front of the Altar is the ginormous cross that each congregant venerated earlier in the day by laying a lit tea candle upon it. Some of the myriads of candles are still lit. Its all very eerie and lonely: the light is out and no one is home. He is not up, waiting for you to get home. Our Lord has died.
It is to this setting of absence and loss that I sneaked back to the side Altar to pray Evening Prayer. As I knelt there, I looked up at the empty and open tabernacle. I looked at the unlit vigil candle. I thought about the cross in front of the Altar. And it suddenly dawned on me: this is what my soul feels like on a daily basis. My life looks like the Nave on Good Friday evening: alone, forgotten, the shell of its former glory, a whitewashed tomb. This was the same kind of revelation you get when you suddenly understand the archetypes of a dream or when a friend can explain exactly how you feel using better words than you’d ever hoped to. Right in front of me, there was my life in liturgical symbols.
If you’ve followed my blog for sometime, you know that I’ve been struggling through the kid’s version of the Dark Night of the Soul for the last several years. The God that I used to feel so close to has seemingly divorced me. My faith, which was once inflamed with love, has seemingly grown cold. If there is any good that I have done in the last few years, I – frankly – do not see it. Where there once was victory, there is only sorrow; where there was presence, all I feel is absence; where there was joy, all I feel is loneliness. My life feels like an empty tabernacle with its vigil light blown out. It seems as if I’m just waiting for a funeral — perhaps, even my own.
I began to write about all of this last year and a dear sweet friend would ask me every so often, “Are you still in it?” I ask that exact question of myself not infrequently. I can emphatically say, that yes, I am still very much “in it” but the shock has worn off. I have found my legs in it: I know how to still do the Daily Office, the Mass and my teensy-tiny works of charity. I have found a deeper and perhaps truer meaning in all these things apart from expecting them to be spectacular experiences — or, to feel anything about them at all. Even though I crawl more often than walk, I have not given up on our faith. Most surely, this is a deep credit to my Spiritual Director, my Confessor and several friends. That small pearls of a great grace are found here amidst this empty tabernacle is surely the work of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
I remember at some point in the Easter Vigil Mass, I prayed, “Welcome back, Lord” after the elements had been consecrated. The Tabernacle would once again be filled, the door shut and that comforting little light would be lit. I also began to think that perhaps my life is not the empty Tabernacle on Good Friday Evening.
Perhaps my life has been the empty tomb. My life is the scene of an unseen resurrection that happened sometime during the night. I have no evidence of it other than the missing Christ, the earthquake and I am confused/frightened. Have I not felt the earthquake that has been the great shaking of my life these last few years? Have I not become like a dead man out of fear? Have I not been walking around as if I were waiting for a funeral, mourning for what my life used to be? Perhaps, I am hearing the voice of the angel: “And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead and, behold, he goeth before you . . . there shall ye see him.” (Mt. 28:7)
I cannot stay at the empty tomb. I must crawl until I can walk; I must walk until I can run. I must run with “great fear and great joy” after him who has gone before me. Perhaps, it is there that I shall finally see him again . . .
“By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth:
I sought him, but I found him not. I will rise now,
and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways
I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not . . .
I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem,
by the roes, and by the hinds of the field,
that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please. ”
(Song of Solomon 3:1-2, 5)