Towards Bethany

The faithful can say with confidence that the whole life of the Church is commemoration. At the conclusion of every Church service, the priest prays: “All Saints whose memory we celebrate”. At the same time, the Church knows that behind all our commemorating, is Jesus Christ, the Lord and Saviour of the Church.

When we remember someone we love, and who is absent, or has passed away, we do more than just remember yesterday. We do two things:

(1) We hold present in our memory, the beloved whom we knew and loved; and

(2) This very presence makes us realize that s/he is no longer with us physically.

Memory is the most wonderful, and at the same time, the most tragic faculty of the human being. Memory reminds us that “time and death reign in our life”.

Christianity centres on Memory.

Memory helps us remember a beloved, an event, and the day on which we were told “Do this in memory of Me”. Here, we see a divine miracle take place. We remember Him in every liturgy. He is present, not as an idea, a phantom of the past, but as a real presence. The Church can eternally repeat the same words of the disciples in Emmaus. “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us?” (Luke 24:32)

To remember, means to make present the yesterday, the absent.

In Christ, memory has become again the power to fill the time broken by sin and death, by hatred and envy. It is this new memory, as power over time and its brokenness, which is at the heart of our liturgical celebration, of the Liturgical Today.

It is true that the Virgin does not give birth today, that the Resurrection is not happening today. All these events happened in the past. But today we remember these historical facts. The Church, which is the power and gift of that remembrance, transforms these facts of the past, into eternally meaningful events.

Our commemoration of the resurrection of Lazarus, is after Lent. On the Friday preceding it, the Church sings: “Having completed the edifying forty days”. In Liturgical terms, Lazarus Saturday, and Palm Sunday, are the “beginning of the Cross”. And the last week of Lent, which is one continuous pre-celebration of these days, is the ultimate revelation of the meaning of Lent.

Lent has been understood as the season of the fulfilment of a once-a-year confession and communion. It was usually thought of in terms of individual effort, and thus was self-centred.

What is absent from that Lenten experience, is the physical and spiritual effort aimed at our participation in the Today of Christ’s Resurrection. Not abstract morality, not moral improvement, not control of passions, but partaking of the ultimate and all embracing Today of Christ, is what is important.

If Christian spirituality does not aim for this, it is in danger of becoming pseudo-Christian.

Pseudo-Christianity is motivated by “self”, and not by Christ. This is the danger. Once the heart is purified, made clean, and free from the demon, if the heart remains empty, then the demon returns “and brings seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and set up house there, so the man ends up worse than he was before.” (Luke 11:26).

It is important to recover the meaning and rhythm of Lent, as genuine preparation for the great Today of Easter.

We have concluded that Lent has two parts.

Firstly, before the Sunday of the Cross, when the faithful are invited by the Church to concentrate on themselves, to fight flesh and passion, evil and other sins. But we are also asked to constantly look forward. From the Sunday of the Cross, it is the mystery of Christ’s suffering, of His Cross and Death, that becomes the centre of our Lenten celebration. It becomes “going up to Jerusalem”.

Finally, during the last week of Lent, we begin the celebration of the mystery of the resurrection. Through our earlier efforts we were able to “put aside all earthly cares”, all that might obscure the central object of our faith, hope, and joy. From now on, time is measured, not by our usual actions and cares, but by what happens on the way to Bethany and Jerusalem.

To anyone who has tasted of the true liturgical life, this time is almost self-evident from the moment we hear “Rejoice, Bethany, home of Lazarus” and then, “on the morrow Christ is coming”. The external world becomes slightly unreal.

True reality is what is going on in the Church, in that celebration, which day after day makes us realize what expectation means, and why Christianity drives out of us everything except expectation and preparation.

When that Friday evening comes, and we sing, “having completed the edifying forty day”, we have not only fulfilled the annual Christian “obligation”. We are also ready to make our own words, what we will sing on the next day. “In Lazarus, Christ is already destroying you, death. Where, grave is your victory ?”

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