When I started planning my sabbatical one of the things I knew wanted to do was to journey through Easter in a different way. I love the celebration of Easter but as a minister I am involved with leading the services and celebrations. Sabbatical gave me the opportunity to receive rather than to lead.
The Easter retreat at St Beuno’s gave me the opportunity I was looking for, to receive through well led services, discussions and silence. Being in a tradition different to my own allowed me to see the story of Easter with different glimpses and perspectives. The people who I journeyed with on the retreat came from different backgrounds, Christian traditions, professions and ages all of whom added to the experience and blessing.
I tried to capture the Easter experience by taking a picture of the Chapel each day, the changes in the pictures capture something of the Easter Triduum (the three days from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday).
Maundy Thursday – the Triduum began with the Maundy Thursday Mass, celebrating the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion) when Jesus shared a meal with his disciples in the upper room. Central to this service was the washing of the feet, as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples before supper in the upper room.
This first service really marked the beginning of the Easter Weekend for me. It gave me an opportunity to think back over lent and to focus on Jesus. I was reminded that it is Jesus who makes Easter possible, who models servanthood in washing the feet of others and in his willingness to be handed over for the sake of the whole world. In his sermon Fr Dermot (The Superior of the Jesuit Community at St Beuno’s) asked us to hold onto and reflect on Jesus’ question to the disciples ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ (John 13:12). It was a very poignant question and a good one to reflect as we entered Good Friday.
Good Friday – When I am in Hexham Good Friday begins with a walk of witness through the town, at St Beuno’s we walked through the grounds carrying a cross and praying the Stations of the Cross. This journey showed me in a new light the journey that Jesus went on and how he kept going despite the knowledge he had of what was to come. I was struck on the walk that no matter what Jesus faced, for us, his Father (God) was always there for him and never left him. In the same way in our moments of struggle and distress God never abandons us.
This picture (below), taken just before the cross was placed into the Chapel shows the tabernacle empty. For the Roman Catholic community the presence of the reserved sacrament is an important sign of Jesus’ presence in the world. The empty tabernacle therefore speaks of the emptiness in the world that came when Jesus died, the absence of God on earth following his crucifixion.
The flash caught the well polished tabernacle and shines, for me this photograph says something very powerful which came to me on Good Friday that even in death, even in Jesus’ death on that first Good Friday, there is always hope. There is always hope because God, the God of Heaven and Earth, is always present and when God is present there is hope. This was echoed for me on Holy Saturday and I expressed it in the poem I wrote and shared here.
Holy Saturday – I believe Holy Saturday is so important to Easter yet so often it is ignored. To wait in the darkness of death, to imagine what it was like for the first disciples who didn’t know the end of the story really helps me to understand the depths of what Jesus did for me/us on the cross.
I found Easter Saturday at Beuno’s uncomfortable, maybe as a day of darkness and despair probably should be. In being attentive to the uncomfortableness I was feeling I was able to meet with God. Through the silence, through scripture and through walking the labyrinth I drew close to God. In drawing close I was reminded of the hope there is always in God, of God’s every active nature, of the victorious sacrifice that Jesus made for me on Good Friday and of God’s redeeming love for me. Through his love for me the active nature of God brings blessing, forgiveness and renewal to me. This reminder of God’s love for me was very powerful, it showed me afresh that God’s love for me is so huge and is the context for who I am and everything I am called to be. It drew me back to the heart of my faith and of who I am. It was a real moment of renewal and depending of my faith and who I am. Through this the uncomfortableness I began the day with dissipated and transformed into a great peace.
Easter Sunday began with the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening and the lighting of the new Paschal Candle. It was a great (yet long) celebration that Christ was Risen and Easter had arrived.
As the picture shows the Easter Candle is now present and lit, the tabernacle in full again and the flowers have returned. In many ways all was back as it began on Maundy Thursday, but it was all renewed – the new candle lit, the reserved sacrament newly consecrated, the light of a new day shining through.
In many ways this summarises how I felt at the end of my Easter retreat, the same (a follower of Jesus) but renewed. Renewed in my faith, deepened in my knowledge of God’s love for me, seeing things differently with the new light of Easter.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!