Today, in Mercy, we wait, entombed with Jesus. The waiting has a surreal sense every year as we commemorate this day with no liturgy of its own.But this year, it takes on a eerie resemblance to our own global stasis in this pandemic – a time in which we tap into many deep and unexplored feelings.
Here are two poems that may help us explore the spiritual dimensions of Holy Saturday in this unique Year of Our Lord 2020.
Today, in Mercy, the Book of Judges offers us the story of Jephthat and his daughter – and it is a doozy!
Again, in a nutshell, Jephthat is recruited to lead an army against the Ammonites. He makes an obviously unconsidered vow that, if he is victorious, he will make a burnt offering to God of “whatever comes first out of his door” upon his return. Unfortunately, the first thing out his door is his only daughter. After giving his daughter the time she requests to “mourn her virginity”, Jephthat fulfills his vow.
Treatises have been written about how to interpret this troublesome passage – from St. John Chrysostom, to St. Ambrose, to modern Biblical scholars. No clear, single answer emerges. And for the purpose of prayer, it needn’t.
One thing the passage does make clear is that vows are critically important and have consequences.
We make all kinds of “vows” in our lives. Some are foolish ones, like Jephthat’s, where we promise God something simply to get our way. We glorify such promises by calling them vows. They are really one-sided bargains we make to fuel our self-interested goals.
A true vow is the tying of our heart and soul to a Love, Truth, and Hope beyond ourselves.It is the binding of our life and future to a power we will understand only with the long fidelity of time and shared experience. It is a giving that, even if rescinded, still will change our character forever. It is a giving that, if sustained, will transform us into the very Love, Truth, and Hope which first embraced us.
Our Gospel makes clear that God takes our vows seriously.They are our invitations to the banquet, whether they come in the form of Baptismal vows, marriage vows, religious vows, or others forms of commitment to love and service.Once we have engaged these vows, we need to respond and to enflesh the Spirit of God within them. If we don’t, if we ignore the holy invitation within our life circumstances, we will end up in a “darkness” outside of God’s hope for us.
But if, as God hopes, we fully embrace the spirit and depth of God’s invitation, we become whole in God, “the chosen”, the beloved.
I have always loved this poem by Alice Meynell, “ The Neophyte”. It fills me with a holy awe and exuberant joy at the mysterious power of being in love with God
The Neophyte – Alice Meynell
Who knows what days I answer for to-day? Giving the bud I give the flower. I bow This yet unfaded and a faded brow; Bending these knees and feeble knees, I pray.
Thoughts yet unripe in me I bend one way, Give one repose to pain I know not now, One check to joy that comes, I guess not how. I dedicate my fields when Spring is grey.
O rash! (I smile) to pledge my hidden wheat. I fold to-day at altars far apart Hands trembling with what toils? In their retreat I seal my love to-be, my folded art. I light the tapers at my head and feet, And lay the crucifix on this silent heart.
(Appropriately, as we talk about faithfulness to vows, this date marks the anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters of Mercy in Philadelphia in 1861 – our Philadelphia Foundation Day. In a later post today, I will share a brief reflection of thanksgiving and challenge for this anniversary.)