Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. (Colossians 3: 1)
There is an ancient practice of attenuating the daily offices during the Easter Triduum. It was discontinued by Rome in 1971, but is still worth doing. It marks the brief time between Maundy Thursday and Easter Day by paring the services down to the essential parts, primarily the psalms, canticles, readings and collects. Whilst it is hardly an essential practice it does allow the participant to focus entirely upon Jesus and his passion without distraction. I have always found that the practice matches the restraint of those days which the Church also marks with the greater restraint of abstinence and fasting.
The act of simplification permits a concentration of the mind on the words of Scripture. We tell the story as it is told in the Old Testament and the New. The former is primarily from the prophets who anticipate the events of the gospels, whilst the latter is the record of the Passion itself. The psalms express either similar sentiments to the prophets or the deepest sentiments of which human beings are capable when faced with suffering and death.
A good example is from Mattins during Monday in Holy Week:
How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord, for ever: how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? (Psalm 13: 1).
The antiphon to accompany the psalm draws from the prophet Isaiah:
I hid not my face from shame and spitting (Isaiah 50: 6)
Also from Mattins of Tuesday in Holy Week:
Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord: Lord hear my voice. (Psalm 130: 1)
See, O Lord and consider, for I am in trouble: O haste thee, and hear me. (Psalm 69: 18)
Meanwhile the antiphon to the Benedictus for that morning takes us straight to the heart of the gospel:
Before the day of the feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour was come, when he loved his own, he loved them unto the end. (John 13: 1)
It would be wrong to say that the office simply inundates the reader with scripture still less bombards him with it. All that is happening is that the full range of God’s written word is being presented as an aid to prayer and meditation. The result of such meditation can be to see ourselves more clearly and come to a greater awareness of our own sin and need of salvation. To sum up the three days, the purpose is to tell the story, to seek Jesus and to understand ourselves better. In other words, ‘Set your affection on things above.’ I have perhaps laboured the point, but it won’t be made anywhere else and the result of ignoring the Scriptures is an Easter of fluffy bunnies born of chocolate eggs!
That is some way from the message of Easter Day. The Lord is risen and all the abstinences and privations are at an end. To prove the point, this morning the Prayer Book gave me the Easter Anthems to use instead of the Venite. Perfect! Don’t just save them for Easter Day either – ignore the rubric!
For the first disciples there is that mixture of shock, surprise and joy which characterise the discovery that Jesus is alive. We need not be surprised because they were the first to do the great three days and to do it without a proper understanding of how it would all end. They would have used the psalms already quoted this morning in the heat of the moment- just as Jesus did himself. The contrast then between the sentiments of the Triduum and Easter Day is huge. If we do no more than celebrate our release from the disciplines of Lent then we should join the disciples in Jerusalem to discover the source and true extent of their joy. If we actually grasp the true nature of the suffering endured by Jesus, then the joy is immeasurable.
It is Easter Day. Rejoice that Jesus is risen, but feel also that you have been released from bondage. I have spoken of release from Lenten disciplines. The Apostles taught us too about release from sin and death. There is nothing more profound or liberating than that. Either way you have been let loose – not for reckless indulgence or gay abandon, but to share the satisfaction with our Lord of a journey ended, a task completed and then to embark on the next stage of life’s journey as an Easter people imbued with new life and renewed by the Spirit.
However you choose to celebrate your release, once the initial excitement is over, it is important to learn to look less to self and more to Jesus who is risen and always present with us. In this we recognise the true extent of God’s love for us and his generous provision. It is a Trinitarian generosity. The Father gives us the Son for our salvation:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3: 16)
The Son loves us so much that he gives his life for us:
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15: 13)
The Spirit transforms our lives:
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. (John 16: 13-14)
The Scripture tells us how good all this is and that it is an integral part of the Easter message. We have all received so much:
And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. (John 1: 16)
That is not an easy expression to translate, but the point is that grace keeps on coming! That is the Easter message. Just look to God and receive of his generosity. Even if you have attenuated the offices over the last few days, don’t attenuate Easter!
Father Andrew Burton SSC
Easter Day 2021