Michael Brendan Dougherty reflects on the way Christians celebrate Easter, finding that the patterns of Holy Week reveal “a larger, more comprehensible story about God’s covenant with man.” How he describes the movement from Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday:
We gather at the edge of sanctuary, which is the symbol of the heavenly Holy of Holies, and re-enact the part of the vicious mob in Jerusalem who called for the death of God for the sake of God’s name. We become the Roman torturers who mocked the King of the universe with a crown of thorns. We play the roles of the screaming and vain religious men, who work themselves into a fury. Our pastor intones the hysteria of the chief priest who condemned God Himself as a blasphemer. We once more present to God (and to ourselves) the bitter betrayals, laziness, and weakness of the Apostles after whom our priests are modeled — and who too often imitate their bad example.
And after all this, our own Via Dolorosa, we are finally prepared to hear the words, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”
This re-enactment — in which reality is suffused with divine meaning — does not end with the liturgy at our Church and is not reserved for the devout or even the believing. Once this vocabulary for understanding the universe seeps into the imagination, the world takes on the same patterns.
After God builds a three-story home at Creation he deputizes Adam as a kind of junior architect, another gardener who will “till and keep it,” verbs used later to describe the duties of priests in the Temple. We are to imitate God, to build our houses and make covenants with one another. To create children and make them our sons and daughters, to gather the orphans into our own homes, to dwell together in love, to sacrifice for each other, to fight for each other as God has for us. And we’re to have fun, too; to sweat over the ovens and feast together.
On this Good Friday morning I will go to the butcher and buy racks of lamb at an extortionate price. On Sunday, we will return from Mass to my father-in-law’s home, which, like the sanctuary, is a place of love. And I’ll prepare the offering. The ribs will remind me of Christ’s side, the side of the Temple, and the smoke will come like a wild offering from the oven. The devout and prodigals of our family will gather together for the holiday and to mark a few birthdays. We will put aside any previous hurts. There will be inside jokes, more good food, more games to play, more communion than any of us could have on our own. And around my father’s table, well-fed, well-loved, and well-understood, we will have made an image of the heavenly banquet, of a New Jerusalem, of a paradise filled with laughter, forgiveness, the smell of spices, with play and rest. Heaven is a homecoming.