Tears welled up last Sunday listening to the Gospel reading for Passion Sunday: Palm Sunday. The reading was LONG, but it didn’t matter. It pierces the heart, step by step – the human psyche revealed under an electron microscope, humanity on parade. All in one long reading. The tears that welled up Sunday didn’t fall, but they will later this week during Tenebrae, the service of Light and Shadow by the end of which the church is left in darkness, every worshiper’s candle extinguished by recognition of our participation in betrayal, sleeplessness, flight, and denial. One by one, the individual candles get blown out. All of them.
Holy Week for liturgical Christians is a solemn time of confession. There is no escaping our participation in the passion: our readiness to betray, doze off when asked to “watch with me one hour”, flee in fear for security, throw the switch, consciously or unconsciously, into psychological and public denial. Yet there is, at the same time over it all, the faithfulness, the wakefulness, the courage, the embrace of reality in its horror for the sake of love’s transforming power, the light of Christ himself.
Christians live in the dynamic paradox of faithlessness and faithfulness, sin and grace. We include a Prayer of Confession in the Sunday liturgy. Last Sunday at Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior, Minnesota, the Prayer of Confession, which came following a dramatic reading of the Passion Narrative, expressed the conscious and unconscious nature of sin and grace.
God of all mercy, we confess that we have sinned against you, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. Some sins are plain to us, some sins escape us, some we cannot face. We repent of the sin that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil don on our behalf. Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may not turn from your love, but serve only your will. Amen.
We barely know ourselves. Some sins are plain to us. Some escape us. Others are too painful to face. Holy Week is time to wade into the waters of self-reflection, confident that these waters are the healing waters of the deeper Self, the crucified-risen One who cannot finally be betrayed, fled, denied, or killed.
Sunday’s liturgy ended with the singing of the hymn “My Song Is Love Unknown,” lyrics by Samuel Crossman, 1664, music composed by John Ireland.