Friday, April 03, 2015

Great and Holy Friday: Do We Mourn or Celebrate?

The Entombment of Christ
Monastery of St. George, Balu, 1437
In the Armenian Church, on Holy Friday of Holy Week, we celebrate the ‘Service of Burial’, where we prepare and place a figure of the tomb of Jesus in the center chancel. We decorate the tomb with candles and fresh flowers, and place burning incense within it.

It’s one of the many beautiful traditions of the Armenian Church, but what is it that we are really doing besides carrying on tradition? Are we metaphorically and visually going back in time to mourn the death of Jesus Christ? Are we reenacting the drama of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, as we solemnly memorialize and honor His death?

As with any liturgical celebration of events, and contrary to what may be popular belief and practice, the Church isn’t at all participating in nostalgia. It’s much, much deeper, and here’s why…

When we partake of Holy Communion, we are not eating and drinking to the memory of the Last Supper or Jesus’ crucifixion. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning Holy Communion, “is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

Also, when we are baptized, it is not the memory of Jesus’ death and burial into which we are baptized. Rather, when we are immersed in water at baptism, we are truly and mystically united to Jesus’ actual death, burial, and resurrection. And it just so happens that the ‘Service of Burial’ on Holy Friday is a recalling of our Baptism. Read the following from Romans 6:3-5…

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

From our perspective, the events of the Last Supper, and Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection are past events on the linear timeline of history. But from God’s perspective, time is not linear. It is not a reenactment of the sacrifice of Jesus when we celebrate Holy Communion, but a participation in the one eternal sacrifice. Likewise, our baptism is not a static event locked into the past, but an ongoing and active event in our daily lives, and so every moment lived for God is a participation in the actual event of Jesus’ death and burial.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t approach our services on Holy Friday without solemnity. In fact, we are instructed to sing with a special solemn melody, but what we do not do is go back in time and pretend to mourn for the crucifixion of Jesus all over again.

As Christians, we know how the story ends. And so our attitude, as with any service throughout the Church year, should be one of celebration.

Holy God
Holy and mighty
Holy and immortal
You who were buried for us
Have mercy on us

Gratitude to Fr. Daniel Findikyan and Fr. Stephen Freeman for this insight.

1 comment:

Janine said...

Awesome. I like this a lot. Do you post any of this on FB?