There are times in the Church Year that the ritual, the things we do in worship, speak louder and with greater clarity than any sermon could. The Triduum, the great three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday is one of those times. The rituals we perform, the actions we live out over these days, say as much about what we believe about our God and about ourselves as you can find, at least if you’re filled in on what the rituals are. So let me tell you what we’re up to now.
What we’re doing now is living out the last night Jesus was alive in His old body. Jesus thought it important to teach His disciples as much as He could that night, and so He taught them how they should act, how they should be, for the rest of their lives. Jesus, perhaps to the surprise of the disciples, did not trot out the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Disciples for them to read; instead, He stripped off His fine tunic, got down on the floor, and washed their dingy, disgusting feet. Jesus didn’t find a throne and sit for a kingly portrait; He found a basin and became the portrait of perfect servitude. We will restage that portrait in just a few minutes.
After Jesus had gotten everyone cleaned up, they sat down for dinner. Jesus knew it was His last dinner, so He thought it would be a good time to completely change the nature of worship, the way we look to God and the things we bring to Him, He even changed the nature of bread and wine. We gave His action a fancy name, the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, and that’s why today, right in the middle of Holy Week, we have a feast, the feast of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist. We are celebrating the anniversary of the first time bread and wine became the Body and Blood of our Lord; straight from His hands then, and straight from His hands now. In just a few minutes, we will do what He did and say what He said.
Jesus then went off to the Garden of Gethsemane to wait and to pray. He asked His Father if He could be spared that cup of wrath He was given to drink, but the answer was no. Jesus asked His disciples to watch with Him, to pray, to stay awake, lest they fall into temptation. In just a few minutes, the Body of our Lord will be processed to our little Garden, so lovingly prepared, and we will watch with our Lord. Will you not watch for one hour?
When the watch was over and Judas had done his work, Jesus was stripped of His garments and taken from His disciples. We will strip the finery off of a representation of Christ’s Body, the altars of this church, just as He was stripped of His finery, and we will carefully wash them with wine and water just as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea so lovingly prepared Christ’s Body for His burial.
We do these things because they are so important that we shouldn’t speak about them above a whisper. These things are better off being done, so that word’s don’t take the majesty of these things and turn them into mere eloquence. So that being said, let us embark on the most important things we might ever do.