(Note: I wrote this on Good Friday, 2004, for my personal AOL Journal. Rather than move it awkwardly to the past tense, I'm leaving it pretty much as I wrote it then. - KFB)
At midnight on April 9th, 2004, my friend Kevin and I spent half an hour reading and praying at the altar of Repose in the back of St. Michael's & All Angels Church. The Eucharist lies hidden away there for nearly 24 hours each year, from the end of Maundy Thursday mass until the beginning of the Good Friday service. Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, with its institution of Holy Communion, otherwise known as Holy Eucharist, the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. Maundy Thursday also commemorates Gethsemane, with its sleepy apostles, the sweating of blood, and the arrest of Jesus. Good Friday commemorates his death and burial.
Some of the Eucharist consecrated on Thursday is set aside for Friday, which has no Eucharistic Prayer of its own. While it's there at the Altar of Repose, parishioners and clergy keep vigil in half hour shifts, usually two at a time, all night and all day. In effect, we are waiting up with Jesus on the anniversary of the Passion, staying awake as Peter, James and John did not.
At St. Michael's, all this takes place in an area between the last pew, the ushers' table and the church's heavy wooden doors. The Altar itself is in an alcove on the right. Behind it is a painting of Jesus, attended by angels as he suffers. In front of it are two large candles, which I long to straighten--they both list to the right. To the left is a bank of votive candles, which may be burned for 25 cents each. Accommodations for the faithful include a rickety kneeler with attached rail, a couple of folding chairs, and the usual books: the Book of Common Prayer, the Eucharistic Lectionary and the Hymnal, not that we would sing through this. Some years there are laminated printouts of suggested prayers. Not this year. We're on our own.
This year at the Altar of Repose I did pretty much what I always do on this occasion. Part of it I spent in prayer, of course. This consisted mostly of a rather self-absorbed monologue in which I attempted to make a connection, intellectually and emotionally, with Jesus: who he is, why he did what he did, and what he wants now. The rest of the time I read a couple of psalms, two chapters of Acts and two of John, and the Maundy Thursday readings I'd missed in favor of a four hour class about the equity method and the purchase method of accounting for business combinations.
At the end, just before Father Smith and his daughter Annie arrived for the next half hour slot, I found myself wondering: did I get anything out of this? Am I supposed to get anything out of this? Or am I supposed to be giving something to it? If the latter, did I manage to do so?
I don't know, but I tried.
Karen Funk BlocherGood Friday, 2004