There are points within our spiritual life that cut through — that resonate beyond all others. For me one of these points is the Watch before the Altar of Repose.
After the Maundy Thursday service during Holy Week, the pre-sanctified host is processed into the Chapel. During the all-night vigil, parishioners are invited to sit with the pre-sanctified host for one-hour time slots throughout the night. This vigil is meant to parallel the time when Jesus asked the disciples to keep watch and pray with him as he prayed to God at Gethsemane under the crippling weight of what was going to transpire.
Driving on empty roads to the vigil during the late night/early morning hours is strange, the fog of sleep still numbing the brain. Carlsbad Village, normally awash in sunshine and coastal light, dark with night and empty of tourists and locals milling about. When you open the door to the chapel it rubs along the carpet on the floor, not a loud noise but enough to disrupt the silence. The person in the previous time slot is still there for a few minutes (this shared stillness is quite profound and humbling in itself). In the candlelit silence in the chapel, seasoned with the prayers of generations of believers, sitting in the pews before the pre-sanctified host, the radiant peace and gravity of Christ’s presence is palpable.
The time here is markedly different from all others during the church year. This time is not a time to pray for ourselves or for others. It is not a time to just be in the presence God or to listen for guidance with an open heart. This time is the singular moment when our purpose is to pray for, to be with and to offer comfort for Christ in His suffering.
Two thousand years of history separate us from the night in Gethsemane when Jesus prayed in duress while his friends and disciples fell asleep. This divide can make the Watch Before the Altar of Repose seem ceremonial. However, before arriving at the Chapel in the late night or early morning you might take some time to ponder the implications of the fact that the same God that Jesus prayed to in the garden is the same God we are praying to during our watch, and this God exists outside of time and space. Our prayers are not idle and our presence is not ceremonial. We have a living link to that historical moment through the eternal God.
Join Our Saviour in the garden. A Watch Before the Altar of Repose Sign-Up is available at St. Michael’s Chapel Saturday evening, Gazebo Sunday, and Parish Office during the week. There will be security on campus during this time.
Written by parishioner Adam Belt.