Wednesday, June 16, 2010

After roast lamb in Zion

You’ve been going flat out re-enacting, re-visiting, and yes, re-joicing in the places and events of Jesus’s passion and resurrection. Frankly, you are also just about churched out as well. After the Sunday of the Resurrection, what of those multiple levels of liturgical life remain?

  • There are no places to visit; you were at the Church of the Resurrection for the Vigil, and none of the resurrection narratives have identifiable locations. The Armenian lectionary gives gospel lessons and locations for the week after Easter, and it’s just one resurrection story after another. For the most part, these are held in the main basilica, the Martyrium, and services elsewhere in the city really have no reason for the change of the location, save the reading of Matthew 5 (the sermon on the mount) on a mountain (at the Eleona on Mount of Olives)
  • The Christians of Jerusalem have gone back to morning and evening prayers and (maybe) attendance at the Eucharist
  • the monks have gone back to being monks; their work as tour guides is (mercifully) no longer needed until the next batch of pilgrims arrive.
  • the bishop has one last set of lectures to give the newly baptized, but there are no processions or liturgical action to go with them
There’s not much here that you couldn’t get at any other major town or city in the Mediterranean basin. After the great vigil, it all seems so flat. Who knows, in an unguarded moment, Cyril or John might have invented “Low” Sunday.

Liturgists have regularly talked about Holy Week as anamnesis, not mimesis, or as remembrance, not recapitulation. But that’s clearly not the case with this early layer of the Jerusalem liturgy. It is all about the late classical desire to appropriate the virtus, the power of the gods by reenacting their deeds in their special places. Granted, Cyril, John, and even Helena sprinkled this desire with holy water, but what remains is a process whereby Christians can answer the spiritual “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” with a resounding “yes!” because they walked where Jesus walked and participated in the re-creation of his passion. Dom Casal spoke more truly than he knew, for this Mysterienlehre of the Jerusalem Holy Week is mystery religion, pure and simple. When we get to the week after Easter day, the practice of mimesis doesn’t work, and the bishops of Jerusalem knew it. And Egeria’s breathless prose slows to a plod.

Is it any wonder that most congregations have such a hard time making sense of Holy Week, and once they do, sustaining that understanding? The issue is not with the congregations; it is with the dramaturgy of the rite. The rite and its place are inseparable. The rite and its cultural surround are inseparable.

Fortunately, the fourth-century imperial church in Jerusalem didn’t invent Holy Week, Easter Day, or the week after it. Were we able to unstack this dobostorte of liturgy to look at the way the Christians in Jerusalem celebrated Holy Week before Constantine and his mother started their religious theme park, we might find a way of living the passion and resurrection of Jesus after the Disneyland of Christendom has gone out of business. The problem is that after we go through this exercise in liturgical archeology we are left with nothing but dry, cracker-like flakes of cake and mounds of greasy icing. It’s not appetizing fare.

We need to find someplace that continued to live out a non-mimetic celebration of the resurrection of Christ. To do that we’ll set sail for the end of Mediterranean Sea much closer to Egeria’s home town and explore what a truly anamnetic Easter looked like. There we will find an Easter that can truly feed the needs of resurrection people.

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