Water, the gift of life
Chris McDonnell CT April 19th2019
We have reached the days of the Triduum when we mark the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord.
Each day has a different tone. On Thursday we witnessed Jesus gather with his disciples for the Passover meal, a Hebrew family occasion to remember the escape from Egypt. It was a time of Eucharist and a time of betrayal. In the Garden of Gethsemane across the Kedron Valley, he was taken whilst his friends slept-‘Could you not stay awake with me for one hour?’.
That night of trial was followed by the brutality and indignity of the next day, the Friday we now call Good. After a hasty temporary burial, for the next day was the Sabbath, the tomb was sealed with a stone and his friends left bewildered and desolate.
Holy Saturday is an empty day, a day of silence and stillness.
A few years ago, the Carthusisan monks of Parkminster produced a CD of their monastic chant-In The Silence of the Word. Apart from the beauty and solemnity of the sung office, one of the Readings struck me forcibly as an image of that ‘day between’. There is no indication of authorship so I reproduce it here with grateful thanks to whoever penned these inspiring words.
“To enter the desert where we are called by God, we have a decisive choice to make: everything must be built on the Son of God, who came to put himself under the Father’s guidance, in the solitude of the Judean desert. Jesus is the source of life in the desert by the simple fact that he is, by nature, a luminous beacon, a focus of attraction for those whom the Father has placed in his interior school. Walking in the desert is to advance in silence behind the Guide. It is to follow Jesus.
Christ’s experience of suffering during his Passion on Good Friday was authentic and freely assumed in a combat against the powers of evil. There, we are on a level of action. The experience of Holy Saturday is contemplative and passive.
The experience of death, before the Father raised him, is one of absence of life, of solitude, of nothingness. We must know that there exists a Holy Saturday, during which the Passion of Friday seems without value and without hope. We must know how to hope in this desert which is the domain of death; how to be dead with the God who is dead, in order to rise with the Lord of life.
Poverty in Christ can go that far. Let us not be afraid. Christ hasdefeated death. Christ is risen!’
A succinct and poignant account of the Triduum Saturday if ever there was one.
The joy of our celebration at the Vigil on Holy Saturday night is symbolized by the kindling of the new Fire from which we light the Paschal Candle, our sign of Resurrection. Soon the whole church is illuminated with a myriad of hand-held candles and the darkness dissolved.
In the early years of the Church, it was the time when those being prepared for reception into the Church, were baptized, at Dawn on Easter Sunday. Now we have partially restored that custom by offering baptism, usually for adults, during the Vigil service. It is a reflection of an individual’s participation in Christ’s dying and rising. Paul writing in his letter to the people of Rome says: ‘Do you not know that you, who have been baptized into Christ’s death, share not only in His death, but also in His resurrection? And so you rise to new life with Christ.’
Our modern practice of infant Baptism has lost the acceptance of Christian life by the adult being baptised and so we have the stand-in voices of Godparents, making a commitment on behalf of the child, who occasionally joins in with a healthy bellow as the cool water descends on its head.
The account of the baptism of the Christ in the Jordan by John is accompanied by the words “This is my beloved son, to him then listen”. Baptism is the one Sacrament that is common to every Christian, it is the start of a journey. Just as the light of the paschal candle is shared by those attending the Vigil, so the light that each of us carries through our lives is there to guide those around us as well as being a beacon for our own direction.
Water is essential to life on earth- you can last many days without food, but only a short time without water- so our baptism endures as a sign of our relationship with God. The Samarian woman at the well gave the Lord water to drink to slake his thirst; he in turn offered her living water to sustain her throughout her life.