Mother of Perpetual Help Monastery
Espous, New York
The following excerpts are taken from an ancient homily on Holy Saturday. It is among those selections chosen by our Church for the only official public worship of this holy day, the Liturgy of Hours. Those participating in the most solemn expression of this at Tenebrae (prayer "in the dark" - a combination of the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer) today, heard this most poetic description of that mysterious time between Jesus' death and his Resurrection. In addition, at Tenebrae, the Psalms of the Offices and the selected readings would be punctuated by sections from the Lamentations of Jeremiah.
Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on the earth today, a great silence and a stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep...He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep...He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: "Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."
I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now, by my own authority, command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated...
The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.
This poetic imagery is invitation. Surely we too dwell in darkness. Surely we too have surrendered our freedom and carry the bondage of crippling emotions and addictions, of norms and values thrust on by the surrounding culture. Surely we too suffer a variety of abandonments - grief, disappointing friends, goals not attained. Today we are invited to shed the bonds, to step out into the light because the one who loved us has died for us, died united with our sufferings, whatever they may be. And in these days has prepared the banquet feast of heaven just for us, those who are intensely loved by the Father in whose image we were created out of love. We need not wait until our mortal death to experience this gift of freedom. We can experience he Resurrection now.
What is the nature of my darkness? What binds my soul, spirit and body? Where am I drowsy and unmotivated? What is the particular invitation to me today in the words of Jesus Christ, "Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead."
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God.
(response to the Lamentations of Jeremiah)