The trumpets pealed out; the choir and congregation sang lustily as the acolytes swung their thuribles in vertical circles. The procession moved forward carefully amidst the wildly waving palm fronds. It was Palm Sunday and this old Anglo-Catholic church did it up right. Jeremy looked around wide-eyed at everything that was going on. He’d been coming to church with John for months now, but this, this was something from another world. The bright red robes, the long procession, the waving palm fronds…it was all way over the top. Nothing seemed to be spoken; everything was intoned by various ministers -- some baritone, some tenor and some with indescribable voices. Yet all of it was done reverently and with great intensity, as if they all truly believed in what they were doing. Jeremy couldn’t get enough of it. Somehow the great drama unfolding around him included him, and he was deeply moved by it.
“We can sit for this next part, the Gospel.”
“But don’t we usually stand for this?” asked Jeremy.
“Yes, but because it’s so long, we usually sit for the first part, and then stand for the last section. Oh, and we kneel for the part where Jesus dies.”
Three people came forward and began to chant the Gospel reading, called the Passion during Holy Week. They each had lovely voices, chanting back and forth with each other as they told the story of Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem. Jeremy was enthralled. When they reached the section about Calvary, there was a rustle throughout the church as people stood up. Jeremy quickly followed suit. The chanting deepened and slowed as the singers told of the crucifixion and death. At the moment of death, everyone knelt down and the entire church fell silent. The singers started up again, people rose, and the singers finished the Passion story. There was an eerie hush all through the church after the Passion. The organ had fallen silent. The priest came forward, crossed himself and invited people to be seated as he began his sermon.
“My brothers and sisters, we enter into the final week of Jesus’ life,
a life lived for us -- for you and me,
a life given for us -- for you and me,
a life shared with us -- with you and me.
During this week, we will relive the Betrayal, the Trial, the Scourging and the Death. And we will come through it, together, with Jesus, as we celebrate the Resurrection.
This week is about the triumph of love.
Don’t focus on the suffering – though there is plenty of that to share with all of us. Rather, focus on the love, and the incredible power of love freely given to change the world.
Christ gave Himself up to suffering and death for you and for me,
that we might have life abundantly,
that we might live life passionately,
that we might love without strings,
that we might grasp life with both hands and laugh joyfully.
And that, brothers and sisters, is well worth the doing.”
Neither Jeremy nor John heard any of the rest of that sermon. They were both plunged deep into their own hearts by the priest’s words. John knew that the priest was right, that love was given so that we might have life abundantly. He knew that he hadn’t been living life abundantly the last few months. He knew that he had been living in a prison of his own making – and he didn’t know how to get out.
Jeremy was transfixed. Life was to be lived abundantly? Love was given to live life passionately? Jesus came so that we might live fully? Jeremy had never heard that before. He had lived his whole life tentatively and fearfully. It was only the past few months that he had begun to come out of his shell. John had given him that gift. It was John’s love that had begun to set Jeremy free. He couldn’t help himself. He looked over at John, sitting beside him, and smiled at him. He saw the tears rolling down John’s cheeks, unaware of his own tears, and he reached over and took John’s hand. So what if he was in church? He realized that John had given him his life back, and it was richer and fuller than ever before. He had been so confused about what John felt for him, and he knew – suddenly – that John loved him deeply. He just didn’t understand what that meant. But – for the moment – it was enough to know that he was loved. He turned back to the front and kept on holding John’s hand.
The service moved on. Gradually Jeremy realized that the organ was silent. There were other instruments playing with the congregation, and there was the lovely harmony of the A Cappella Choir, but what had happened to the organ?
“John, why is the organ silent?”
“It goes silent right after the Passion and stays silent until the Easter Vigil service on Saturday. It is one of the ways that some parishes mark the solemnity of Holy Week. This is one of those parishes. We’ll hear other instruments, and we’ll keep singing, but the organ will be silent until we all exclaim that ‘Christ is Risen!’ in the Easter Vigil service.”
“Oh. There are a lot of things I don’t understand in the church.”
“There are lots of things I don’t understand, too, Jeremy. I keep plugging along, trying to keep an open mind, asking questions just like you’re doing now, and thinking – a lot – until things become more clear. That’s just all part of a thinking person’s faith.”
“Oh.” Jeremy fell silent, thinking about what was going on for him during this service. John looked over at him, almost seeing the brain cells whirling inside as Jeremy worked things out. He was so proud of him. Jeremy had learned so much over the past few months, he had come such a long, long way. John looked down at their entwined hands, and without thinking, lifted them up, and kissed Jeremy’s hand – a light, feathery kiss on the back of the hand. Jeremy looked over, surprised, startled, and his eyes lit up with joy. He reached over with his other hand and stroked John’s hand, letting his fingers do all the talking that they both just couldn’t find the words to do. Both of them looked deeply into each other’s eyes, and smiled.
Somehow, the service ended around them. They had gone through the rest of it in some sort of a fog, responding automatically, going up together to receive communion, standing, sitting, kneeling, taking part in the ecclesiastical calisthenics that mark an Anglican service, all as if in a dream. It was a good dream. They were both transported by what had happened, even if they couldn’t put it into words.
The entire week passed that way. The great celebration of Maundy Thursday where the Church remembers the foot washing and the Last Supper had touched them both deeply. They had knelt and washed each other’s feet, kneeling in front of each other and carefully pouring the warm, scented water onto the feet. They had lovingly washed and massaged the feet, and then carefully taken up the towels and dried them. They had walked back to their seats, bare-footed, overwhelmed by the intimacy of that simple action.
Good Friday had been gut wrenching as they remembered the crucifixion and the suffering of Jesus. The time after the service seemed to exist in limbo, neither one thing nor another. As they had gone about the simple tasks of feeding the homeless that whole week, they experienced Jesus doing it with them. It was an intense week, a fragile, vulnerable, intimate week. They were so sensitive to each other, so aware of what the other was doing, thinking, feeling. Their life at home seemed colored by the events of the week; there was a special intensity to it, too. The whole world was in waiting.
They arrived in good time for the chaos of the Easter Vigil. Families and children were everywhere. The acolytes handed out candles to everyone. They met outside, chilly though it was and still dark. There was a bonfire, still unlit, built outside the church doors. The choir, acolytes, and clergy all huddled together in the dark and the service began. The priest chanted the opening prayers and the bonfire was lit. Incense was thrown into the fire to give the swirling smoke its own special scent. The paschal candle was lit from the new fire, the crowd lighting their own tapers from the paschal candle and the deacon began to chant the Exsultet, an ancient hymn of praise that proclaims the triumph of the Risen Christ over darkness and death. As the deacon moved into the dark church, the crowd flowed behind him, their candles making a path of fire into the church that went all the way up to the altar. In the darkness, the flickering candles gave only a fitful light as the history of salvation was proclaimed from the front lectern and the choir and congregation responded with song after song after song. The service moved on, still in semi-darkness, as the candidates for baptism were brought forth, adults and children, and welcomed into the Body of Christ.
Everyone turned towards the front, to the altar and the Paschal Candle, as the priest proclaimed “Alleluia. Christ is Risen!” and the crowd shouted back, “The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!” And pandemonium broke out – the lights burst into brilliance, people rang out all the hand-bells they had brought with them to aid in banishing the darkness and celebrating the light, the choir burst into song and the organ began to thunder. In the brilliance of the new light, people could see the fruits of the Altar and Flower Guilds’ hard work. The church looked beautiful, the altar crowded with flowers. Incense flowed, people laughed and cried out with joy, and the service moved on steadily. John and Jeremy were seated with many of their friends and co-workers from the Shelter. John had worked very hard to invite many of the homeless to come and share in the Holy Week services, and several of them had. They, too, were surrounded by people dressed in their Easter finery who reached out to hug and welcome them. It was a truly joyful mass.
John and Jeremy came back from receiving communion to their pew. They knelt to give thanks and then sat back. Jeremy reached over and took John’s hand. He leaned over and kissed John on the cheek. John turned, surprised.
“John, I don’t want to move out. I know it’s the next step, but I don’t want to move out. I want to stay with you.”
John looked at Jeremy. He paused, going over in his head how to respond. He knew what he should say, but he realized that he didn’t want to. Their intimacy this past week had grown. It had been life-giving for him. As he sat there, basking in the glow of Easter, he understood how much he would miss Jeremy, and how little he wanted him to go.
“Jeremy, I, uh …”
“John, I love you. I want to stay with you, not just for now, but forever. Don’t make me go.”
“Jeremy,” John took a deep breath and started over, “Jeremy, I love you, too. I just didn’t want to take advantage of you. I didn’t want to be like the other men.”
“You’re not! You’ve been life-giving for me. Look at me. I’m not the same person I was before Christmas. You’ve been there to give me the strength to grow and to become this new person.”
“Are you sure? Are you sure you want to stay with me?”
“Yes. I’m sure.”
“OK. Then let’s go home, to our home.”
One of the homeless men, sitting behind them, leaned forward, “Well, it’s about time. You two have been mooning over each other for months now. Good for you. Invite me to the wedding.”
As he sat back, the two of them looked at each other and laughed aloud. Everyone else seemed to already know what they had just come to admit. Resurrection happens, and this would be a very good Easter indeed.