Each week, after we receive Communion, we give thanks to Almighty God for assuring us “that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son” (BCP 339). This phrase reflects a fundamental belief of our faith. St. Paul reminds us that we are individually members of the one body (I Corinthians 12.27), with Christ as the head (Ephesians 4.15). The church does not resemble Christ. The church is not like Christ. The church IS the mystical body of Christ.
Our membership in Christ’s body is not a clever analogy; it is a profound spiritual reality. We may not always remember or feel like we are an indispensable part of Christ’s body, but that does not change the fact that we remain intimately and organically connected to one another and to Jesus.
One of the most tangible expressions of this mystical unity is when the body gathers to worship. When we come together to sing praises to God, continue in the apostles teaching, in the breaking of bread and the prayers, we are more than just physically present with each other. When we worship together we share the same pulse. The blood of Christ courses through our collective veins – both literally and spiritually.
The body of Christ gathered in one place and worshiping with one voice is a powerfully real experience. But what is it that quite literally brings us together? What is it that gives focus to our times of worship? What is it that gives meaning to our weekly celebrations? The calendar of the church year.
The church calendar provides us with a singular framework that we use to guide us through the liturgical year. But it is much more than simply an organizational device or a teaching tool. The church year is structured around the life events of Our Lord. As such, it enables the body of Christ to live the life of Christ year after year. We not only remember and celebrate, but actually enter into and participate in, all the events of Jesus’ Earthly pilgrimage. We are not merely following in our Lord’s footsteps; as the mystical body of Christ we are Jesus’ hands and feet, here and now.
Throughout the year we celebrate the whole of Jesus’ life: his teaching, healing, and miracles, as well as the trials and tribulations. The majority of the year we gather weekly on Sunday. But Holy Week is different. It is the one time in the church year when the body of Christ experiences the events of our Lord in real time.
On Thursday evening Jesus gathered together with his disciples in the upper room. He washed their feet. They broke bread together. The first Eucharist was celebrated. On Maundy Thursday we do the same.
Thursday night Jesus asked his disciples to stay with him, to remain awake with him, to watch and pray with him. At the Watch Before the Blessed Sacrament we do the same.
On Friday Jesus was handed over to suffering and death. He was tortured. He was dragged up to Golgotha where they nailed him to a cross. He gave up his Spirit and died. On Good Friday we do the same.
On the third day Jesus rose again from the dead. He passed from death into life, from darkness into light. On Saturday evening at the Great Vigil of Easter we do the same.
These Sacred Three Days, or the Triduum Sacrum as they are referred to in Latin, are not for us just “a bunch of church services.” As the climax of Our Lord’s mission on Earth, they are the centerpiece of our life together as the body of Christ. May God bless us as we mystically participate in Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, that we may attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ!
Written by Fr. Doran Stambaugh, Rector.