Among my particular favorite aspects of religion in general, and of Catholicism in particular, is how we sanctify time. This is certainly a species marker of man, universally followed by even the most stinkingest rationalistic positivists out there, that there are times worth of setting apart and recognizing as special. It’s so natural, we neither question nor much note it, and even children recognize the specialness, say, of birthdays. We celebrate anniversaries and holy days, and these phenomena are so pervasive, these ability and inclination so strong, that the calendar reforms of the French Revolution, so rational in their decimalization, so unsparing in their strident materialism, were full to the brim with days of commemoration. The last five days of the year — the sans-culottides – were not even a part of any month, but were a time of particular recognition of the glories of revolution and the progress of the human spirit. Even the concept of counting years implies a counting of time since an event so notable, it’s memory has written itself across the ages.
Holy Week is something special.
In that dim din of the sacramental imagination, the place that looks at rain and sees baptism, and stops to admire the flickering streetlamp as a worthy commemoration of the Lord, that endless part of the heart that, immature, longs for sex and death and revolution, Holy Week feels particularly set apart. It’s a moment and an age, an island in the expanse of time’s sea, the inner court of the Temple of the Year surrounding the Holy of Holies, Easter, and every passing hour is an inching forward, a reluctant but inexorable shuffling toward the throne of God. It’s a memory, and anevent, and a charge, and a flag, and a plea. In pagan language, it actually is what days like Halloween merely profess to be, the thinning of the veil between life and death, the slippery borderlands of heaven. Mass is mass because of Easter; Easter is the thing itself, the smoke at the God’s feet enveloping the congregation as it wreathes itself in incense and clothes itself in the crash of bells. It’s Holy. It’s set apart. It’s other. It’s ancient. It’s new.
It’s all of these things because Christ died, and yet somehow lives. It’s all of these things because we killed God, and God proved he’s more than death, that even the inexorable enemy of man, before whom we ultimately all wretch and quiver, is subject to him. It’s Holy. It’s grand. It’s sanctity itself, a cacophonous cascade, a crescendo that escalates even when you think it should peak, like the opening swell of Mozart’s Lacrimosa. It goes — and goes — and goes – because the Lord is Holy, Holy is his name. He’s even thrice-holy according to the Eastern Divine Liturgy and our own Divine Mercy Chaplet, where we pray “agios O theos, agios ischyros, agios athanatos — eleison imas” — Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Deathless.
And ultimately, it’s the last one we’re rising to cheer. Holy and Deathless.
I am, and always have been, struck by death and its bounds. Boundaries are, in a sense, the guarantors of peace; the old saying is that good fences make good neighbors, that peace is achieved in respecting those borders. For all that principle holds true, we’re worshippers of a God who broke the gates of hell and emptied it. He’s deathless — and does not respect the boundaries of death. He doesn’t honor those borders. He wants no peace with death. It is his enemy.
And he destroys it.
Christ has died. But dying, he destroyed death. Rising, he restored life.
Lord Jesus, come in glory.