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Go three for three

Faithpoint | Thursday, April 9, 2009

Years ago, an advertising campaign hoping to bring people back to Mass featured billboards and other marketing tools asking the question, “Can’t you spare an hour a week after all Jesus has done for you?” The signs more or less meant to guilt those who saw them into getting back into church on Sundays, assuming that the reader, overwhelmed with sudden appreciation for Jesus’ willingness to die for him or her, would promptly find a place of worship to attend weekly, thereby somehow evening the score with Jesus. I suppose the signs were just meant as a starting point, a way of getting folks in the door who hadn’t been regulars for a while, but I always wondered about the implied “lowest common denominator” aspect of the message. So after spending an hour a week at Mass, you’d be “square” with God? “OK, Jesus,” I imagined a billboard-reading-Mass-attendee concluding, “Thanks so much for your sacrifice; I’ve taken care of my half of the deal. It’s all good.” Thankfully, that approach to encouraging fallen-away worshippers seems to have disappeared.

Well today, Holy Thursday, I’m going to recommend, though not through guilt tactics, that this weekend you go to church for more than one hour. Much more. You won’t be able to even the score with God – sorry about that – but you’ll have an amazing opportunity to come face to face with the reality of our salvation, and realize just how eternally powerful God’s part of the deal remains.

These next three days, from tonight through Easter Sunday, are known as the “Triduum,” a word which simply means “The Three Days.” The Three Days together make up the single most sacred, significant event of our Christian faith. And it is one event, which is why just showing up on Easter Sunday will mean that you’ve missed most of the celebration. In fact, if you participate in the worship of Thursday evening, Friday afternoon and Saturday night or Sunday morning, you will notice that these liturgies aren’t really separate events, but one continuous prayer that takes us through the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We “leave off” in between, keeping vigil with Christ until the next opportunity to come together to pray.

You won’t find chocolate eggs or Peeps to help you celebrate the first Two Days. Holy Thursday and Good Friday have just never gotten off the ground commercially, but they remain celebrations nonetheless, expressing the unfathomable depths of Jesus’ love in all its complexity.

Holy Thursday specifically focuses on celebrating the Last Supper on the night before Jesus died, just as we proclaim each Sunday at Mass. You’ll notice, however, that rather than reading from one of the Gospel stories about Jesus sharing bread and wine with his disciples, we hear of Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet. Jesus’ love means humble service on this night, and he reminds us, “As I have done for you, you should also do.”

Good Friday celebrates – yes, celebrates – Jesus’ passion and death, his innocent suffering. The one who has already given his life completely over to others now dies a lonely, appalling and humiliating death, with a love we can barely comprehend even for those who persecuted him; with a love reaching out to you and to me and to all time. Whenever we feel isolated, humiliated or overwhelmed with suffering, sorrow or the presence of death in our lives, we can turn in prayer to Jesus Christ.

As the Good Friday liturgy ends, it contains no hint of the joy to come. However, because we can’t pretend that we’re like Jesus’ disciples and like his mother, who grieved, thinking Jesus’ death ended the story, we keep the vigil of Friday night and Saturday knowing in our hearts of the Easter joy to come on Saturday night or Sunday morning.

The Easter Vigil on Saturday night proclaims the whole story of God’s loving plan for our salvation, culminating in the words to the women at the tomb, “He is not here; he has been raised.” On Easter Sunday, the readings underscore the beginnings of the disciples’ transformation and indeed, that of the whole world, through Jesus’ resurrection. Death and darkness can never overwhelm the newness of life we find in Christ.

At the Easter liturgies we baptize new Christians and renew our baptismal promises, recommitting ourselves to the humble service of Jesus, to placing all our suffering into the loving arms of Jesus, and to sharing our new lives of resurrection joy with Jesus. But don’t wait until Easter; begin tonight and don’t miss a moment of any of The Three Days.

This week’s Faithpoint is written by Kate Barrett. Kate Barrett is the director of the Emmaus program in Campus Ministry. She can be reached at kbarrett@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Faithpoint are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.