The rain stopped for some hours last night but the wind was cold and raw diving through the river valley and swirling around the church. As the sounds of traffic and wind flowed around us the inside of our little parish was candle lit and warm. A good number for St. Elias were gathered around the bier and we began to sing the ancient songs of lament.

I cherish Holy Week, always have, even before I was Orthodox and just a guest sitting in the middle of things trying to make sense of it all. There is no feeling like being in the presence of holy things in these holy days and I understand why some Orthodox simply take the whole week off to immerse themselves in it. And to me there is no service to compare to the Lamentations.

It's technically an Orthos or morning prayer of Saturday and we celebrate it on Friday as the sun sets and liturgical dawn arrives. The melodies are haunting and the words profound as we stand about our little representation of Jesus' tomb covered in flowers. The cross is empty, the grave, for now is full, and we are carried back to that time of waiting.

One can imagine the pain, the struggle, the unanswered questions that must have filled these hours for those who loved Jesus. The sheer impact of things erasing everything he said about resurrection and hope and replacing it with loss and fear. Doors are locked as they wonder who is next. Women weep together as they gather items for Jesus embalming. If they could not change these events at least there was that one final act. The Virgin Mary, a sword piercing her heart as prophesied, in the care of John but torn by the loss of her only child.

We have the advantage of knowing the rest of the story. Even as we sing we know what is to come and so there is a certain melancholy joy in our voices. But they had no such hindsight, only the swirl of events over which they had no control. How lonely it must have been and how difficult to reach beyond themselves or even remember what Jesus had said. And with what wonder and sadness the angels must have watched these dear to Christ, his followers, as they huddled in the dark.

Yet even at the very moment of their darkness Christ himself was harrowing hell, revealing his glory to those who had died and taking with him all who would respond. Even as the faithful women prepared spices the body of Christ was resting intact because it was not possible, as the liturgy says, for the author of life to be held in corruption. And how different it would have been if they had known that undescribable joy was just two days away?

Beyond the beauty of the hymns that we sang there was a lesson for me. To often in my dark times I see only the darkness and my life becomes focused on just what I see. My vision is limited and because of it my struggle is magnified. If I could have been transported back to those times from the present I would have said to those people hiding behind closed doors, "Remember what Jesus said, he will rise in just a few days, so don't be afraid." Yet in the service of Lamentations the saints of those days have come to me, hiding behind my own locked doors, with that very message of hope.

So now on to Pascha.

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