The Easter Triduum marks the most sacred days in the Christian calendar. Mphuthumi Ntabeni reflects on his experience and what moves him as the Christian communities gather around the world to recall the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Pope Francis has popularised the Easter Triduum, especially in the eyes of the secular world, by drawing attention not just to our Church and religion, but the ways and values of Jesus, the Christ crucified. Jesus’ ways are the bedrock of our humanism. I have always enjoyed participating in the Easter Triduum activities in my parish. As an aspiring contemplative, this is the time I like to take off, calming my observationally tendencies, so that I, like, Martha, journey with the Lord towards his Passion.
The common practice in Cape Town parishes – I have visited a few during the past few years – are public processions for Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week. The procession is coupled with the Stations of the Cross, using pre-identified houses of parishioners, especially those who are housebound, as stations where the procession prays. This is proving to be popular, and attracts much attention, especially on the Cape Flats where I’ve noticed the practice most. The final station is prayed back at the church where the procession started. Needless to say, this requires good comfortable shoes as the walk can be up to 13km! It can also put one’s physical and spiritual body in prayer mode because it can make you thirst.
On a personal level, the time I find most sacred during Holy Week is Thursday’s Mass of the Last Supper. For me, this is the hour of weakness, of personal abasement, symbolised in the washing of the feet. I like being part of those who help the priest in imitation of Christ. It is something I cherish. I have discovered that it builds humility in my character. It also amuses me, because our parish is predominantly white and I sometimes sense the reluctance and discomfort – due to our national racist history – among our fellow parishioners. Their natural instinct is to drawback until I look them in the eye with reassurance that puts them at ease.
The part I like most is remaining behind, being part of those who keep vigil – staying wake with Christ during his moment of silent dread in the garden of Gethsemane. This is the moment that affects me most profoundly in the Gospel; more even than Golgotha because it is the moment when God’s love makes his son stagger. It is a moment when God’s son teaches us that God’s will must be sought at all cost, with our fallings and life if need be: “If it be your will, take this cup away from me.” (Luke22:42) It is the moment when God’s son makes it clear that God’s ways call us to confident trust.
I have deep empathy for the Gethsemane scene – the blood and sweat images are profound to me. By the time things happen for real, my stoic reserve is usually returned, thus they don’t affect me as much as they do in mental anticipation. For me, Gethsemane is when our faith is stretched to the limits, the breaking point – when even the Son of God shuddered because of the darkness that engulfs the world because of sin, when we insist on our will over God’s. And in profound simplicity the apostle of Christ, Paul, reports how in Asia: “I was pressed above measure, and tested beyond strength. I despaired of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8).
Unlike Peter and others, or you and me; the Son of Man doesn’t break, though pressed beyond measure. He doesn’t flee from the darkness, though tested beyond strength. Instead, in the dreadful silence of self surrendering love, he confronts it: “Your will, and not mine, be done!” (Luke 22:42). This is what God does to those who love him; he leads them into situations where they may see clearly that God’s grace is sufficient against all things, especially when they’ve been tested beyond strength.
Some of us know and have experienced that darkness. Even St Therese of the Child Jesus, who trusted in God with a childlike faith, knew the demands of darkness. During her last days on this earth, internally bleeding from tuberculosis – her Calvary – that was about to take her life, came in a mocking blasphemous voice: “There is no God!” Ditto Mother Teresa of Calcutta. But like a rose that had reached its perfection, St Therese shed her petals to fertilise the ground for the plants that must grow from her death. Like Paul, she kept the faith. And in that, exposed the limits of darkness.
The difference between Christ and us is that at his weakest moment he surrenders to his Father. Whereas most of us, since Adam and Eve, flee from God in our weakest moments, because we discover our own nakedness. Where we flee to is characterised, perhaps, by Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot.
Peter, broken in hearing the cock crowing, remembers the rock from which he was hewn. Judas, with the burden of pride, hangs himself. His pride wouldn’t allow him to take his alabaster jar and weep on the feet of Christ, like Mary. He couldn’t see any way to break out of his prison of pride, thus earn himself the eternal gift of being the one to first meet the risen Christ, like Mary.
Both Peter and Judas betray God incarnate, Jesus Christ; it is their attitude towards life that determines their end. Peter repents. Christ accepts his repentance; as such, when he appears to the women – the Marys who kept the faith when even the apostles scattered. He tells them to go and inform his disciples to “meet me in Galilee” (Mark 16:7). But most wonderfully yet, he goes beyond that in emphasising: “Tell Simon Peter to come too” (Mark 16:7). Imagine that!
This is the Peter who, in his moment of weakness, when accused of knowing Jesus declared: “I do not know the man!” (Matthew 26:72). Naturally Peter would have expected Christ to disown him – after all he had heard him preach that whoever denies me here on earth I would also deny before my father. So Peter had many reasons to despair, to think that the door of heaven was shut to him. But Christ, the key to that door, says: “Tell Simon Peter to come too.”
Is it, therefore, any wonder that after this Peter would go to the ends of the earth for Christ, ending up crucified, upside down, in Rome, for Christ? Is it any wonder that on Pentecost day he is the one who is bold enough to break the fear of the Jews and Roman authorities by standing on a raised platform saying: “This Christ whom you had crucified, God saw fit to raise from the dead” (Acts 3:15).
Imagine the comfort Peter must have derived from hearing those words: “Tell Peter to come too”.
What welcoming simplicity – typical of Christ who never sees any point in exuberance or embellishing: Tell Mphuthumi to come too! Please God.Republish