As I write this, the Western Church is anticipating Easter, and the Eastern Orthodox Church is just now -- with our observance of Lazarus Saturday today and of Palm Sunday tomorrow -- beginning its deliberate descent into Holy Week. After our Palm Sunday service tomorrow, we will savor a Sunday evening "Bridegroom Service," which will be followed by similar services on Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday evenings, an Unction/Anointing service on Holy Wednesday evening, and a heartbreaking service of "The Twelve Gospels" on Holy Thursday. Thereafter, we will weep through our Lamentations Service on Great and Holy Friday evening, walking through our neighborhoods with the epitaphion, a funeral bier bearing the tapestry icon of our slain God. On Saturday morning we will return for the Royal Hours service -- being watchful at the tomb -- and on Saturday night we will return again for our midnight Paschal service, commencing the glorious Feast of Feasts, and we will sing Christos Anesti (Christ is Risen) at the tops of our lungs, still weeping.
Bearing in mind that much of the church is already leaning in to its "Kalo Pascha," its "Good Passover," I offer this trio of poems from my "Recovered Body" to wish you all a Kalo Anastasi, a very "Good Resurrection."
The More Earnest Prayer of Christ
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly...
His last prayer in the garden began, as most
as his prayers began--in earnest, certainly,
but not without distraction, an habitual...what?
Distance? Well, yes, a sort of distance, or a mute
remove from the genuine distress he witnessed
in the endlessly grasping hands of multitudes
and, often enough, in his own embarrassing
circle of intimates. Even now, he could see
these where they slept, sprawled upon their robes or wrapped
among the arching olive trees. Still, something new,
unlikely, uncanny was commencing as he spoke.
As the divine in him contracted to an ache,
a throbbing in the throat, his vision blurred, his voice
grew thick and unfamiliar; his prayer -- just before
it fell to silence -- became uniquely earnest.
And in that moment -- perhaps because it was so
new -- he saw something, had his first taste of what
he would become, first pure taste of the body, and the blood.
The last of the three to die was the one
whose harsh words to the rabbi had availed
for the third culprit the astonishing
promise of Paradise.
The last of the three could no longer turn
even his head -- his body had stiffened.
He did not dare close his eyes again, so
fixed upon the rabbi's face,
which had grown so utterly still, opaque,
that the dying one observed a vivid
mirroring of his own condition there,
or so he imagined,
confused, struggling to see anything clearly.
As that face blurred, he saw beyond to the one
whose shins were that moment cracking across
the flat of a sword.
That man, too, was clearly dead, and if this day
he also swam in bliss, it didn't show.
The dying man would examine the dead
rabbi one more time
if he could, but finally knew the man
was lost to his sight. He felt a tug, far
away (at his feet?) and a blade across
his knees. He heard them crack,
and heard himself cry out (so far away).
Dying, he thought that if he might just glimpse
the rabbi's ruined face, he could suspect
a kingdom even now.
Into Hell and Out Again
In this Byzantine-inflected icon
of the Resurrection, the murdered Christ
is still in Hell, the chief issue being
that this Resurrection is of our agéd parents
and all their poor relations. We find Him
as we might expect, radiant
in spotless white, standing straight, but leaning back
against the weight of lifting them.
Long tradition has Him standing upon two
crossed boards--the very gates of Hell--and He,
by standing thus, has undone Death by Death,
we say, and saying nearly apprehend.
This all -- the lifting of the dead, the death
of Death, His stretching here between two realms --
looks like real work, necessary, not pleasant
but almost matter-of-factly undertaken.
We witness here a little sheepishness
which death has taught both Mom and Dad; they reach
Christ's proffered hands and everything
about their affect speaks centuries of drowning
in that abysmal crypt. Are they quite awake?
Odd -- motionless as they must be
in our tableau outside of Time, we almost see
their hurry. And isn't that their shame
which falls away? They have yet to enter bliss,
but they rise up, eager and a little shocked
to find their bodies capable of this.