Last night, we celebrated the Mass of The Lord’s Supper. It is a beautiful service, with poignant readings and so much symbolism. I love that Mass, and look forward to it every year. It also is the beginning of the Easter Triduum, in which we begin to walk with Jesus toward the Cross.
Today, my daughter and I were able to attend the Liturgy of The Lord’s Passion at 3:00, the hour Jesus died on the cross. It is also a beautiful service, but in a very different way. The priest’s vestments were blood red, in stark contrast to the empty altar, which was stripped down after last night’s mass. There was no Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the Gospel reading is the longest of the Liturgical Year.
And every time I hear the readings (or read them myself at home) about Jesus’ Agony in the Garden, the Crowning With Thorns, The Scourging, The Carrying of the Cross up the hill to Golgotha, and The Crucifixion, I cannot help but see these things in my mind. I imagine the terror and anger the apostles must have felt when the guards, with lanterns and torches and swords, came to Gethsemane to arrest Jesus. He knew they were coming, but it was quite a shock to them. I imagine how it must have felt to be standing there in the garden, watching them lead Him off. They must have felt very empty.
Some of them followed at a distance. We read about Peter’s triple betrayal, and his agonizing remorse when he realized what he’d done. I find the contrast between Peter’s betrayal and Judas’ betrayal interesting. Both regretted their decisions, both realized their failures. Judas committed suicide, sure that there was no redemption to be found for him. Peter, on the other hand, waited. He might not have been sure what he was waiting for, but he waited in the Upper Room with the others. And as soon as he heard that Jesus’ tomb was empty, he ran as fast as he could to see for himself. He couldn’t wait to see Jesus again. And when he finally did see Him again in the Upper Room, Peter’s joy was unbounded. He knew and understood Jesus well enough to know that Jesus would forgive him. He probably had some doubts, but nothing that would stand in the way of him finding his risen Lord. But that night at the fire, outside the gates, he must have felt devastatingly empty.
And how Mary must have felt, when she saw her beloved and only Son, barely recognizable from the beatings he’d endured, struggling up the hill under the weight of that cross. Empty and helpless probably can’t even begin to describe her sorrow. Yet she followed him up that hill, and stood beside him beneath the cross.
There was a small gathering of women at the cross that day, along with St. John. They all had to have felt a loss greater than any ever known before or since. Their God was truly dead. Now what? So, they clung to each other in their emptiness, lest they be consumed by it.
Yet it was emptiness that, three days later, brought indescribable joy to them. The emptiness of the tomb filled their hearts beyond anything they had dared to hope or imagine, even in the silence of their own hearts. We, too, feel emptiness sometimes. There are so many times when our own betrayals cause us to question if God can ever really forgive us, if He still has love enough left for us. We can rest assured, even though it is no more understandable today than it was almost 2,000 years ago, that that empty tomb will fill us to overflowing.