Last night I experienced what I have heard and said and sung for at least all of my adult life: We are the body of Christ. I entered a church already full of a great diversity of ages, nationalities and, thankfully, even races (although still in this valley we are in the majority Caucasian) where I could sense that nobody was there out of duty. We all came to enter into the Paschal Mystery that began with the “Last Supper” of Jesus with his disciples and will lead us through his death and burial into resurrection over these next three days. In welcoming all to the service, the music director instructed visitors that this was a place where everyone participated in both prayer and song – regardless of musical ability. And participate we did – from oldest to youngest – and I was struck by the ease with which everyone carried out their assigned duties. Especially notable were the children who served as acolytes and gave special assistance during the foot-washing and incensing both during the Eucharist and the procession to Gethsemane that followed. I was drawn along on the wave of devotion and feeling of family that is normative in that community and moved by the pastor’s comment during his homily that he was proud to serve at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church because it was such a caring and engaged community. It was obvious that the heart of Christ beats strongly there.
All that said, the most important facet of the experience was the quality of silence that followed the last hymn. The commentator, having explained that we were now “on watch” with Jesus at Gethsemane, called us into a silence that will last in the Church through today and until tomorrow evening at the Great Vigil of Easter. It was time, she said, for us to remain or to leave the church in silence. And that is what happened. Apart from footfalls, there was no sound heard in the hour that I remained. The silence was pervasive and profound. Whether people moved to the chapel representing the Garden of Gethsemane or stayed in the darkened church, not a sound was heard.
As I sat in that silence I became aware of an inner stillness that is rare for me. Even during my daily meditation I find my mind either racing or wandering and must keep emptying as soon as I catch the thoughts in order to come back to presence. There was none of that last night. No thought could penetrate that silence. The immensity of what we had shared of an event 2,000 years in the past collided with what had just happened in Belgium this week and there was no way to comprehend or even think about it all. I sat in utter stillness and in that state felt connected while also utterly alone. Upon reflection during my drive home, I sensed that I had touched something of what Jesus knew and felt in the darkness of that garden. This morning it expands to a sense of the immensity of pain that victims of violence and catastrophe around the world are feeling as I write. And it has only just begun…