I. Evlogimenos — The Triumphant Entry
The men stand in tight, congruent rows. There are pews directly behind them. Some have hymnals. Others have bells. Still others have nothing, instead clasping their hands in front of their bodies. There are two groups. One on the right. One on the left. They face each other. Their lips and tongues move slowly. Delicately. The notes they chant rise higher and higher as they sing. “Evlogi-menos, o erkho-menos en onomati kereio… Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord…” I watch the men with great interest. I am fascinated with their white robes, their scarlet stoles. Orarion, I later learn the stoles are called. I am enthralled by the sound of their voices in unison. The way they echo. The way they haunt. The words — I don’t understand them. I am thousands of miles from these folks, but I feel as though I am right there, among them. One man smiles. He is happy. This moment — sacred. This music — surely it makes their hearts leap. It’s a day set aside for welcoming. Commemorating. Remembering. How their Lord humbled himself. How he came on a donkey. A donkey — a symbol of peace. He was welcomed by the crowd. They waved branches. Hosanna. Yes, I understand. Hosanna. A word I can speak. Hosanna. A sound — sharp, loud, fearful. Hosanna. The video eerily fades to blue. Hosanna. Panicked voices of women and children. Hosanna. The screams grow louder. Hosanna. Martyr’s blood on saintly icons. Hosanna. Flesh is wiped from holy ground.
II. Lamentations of Jeremiah — The Last Supper
The table is prepared. We are seated. The same as always. Dad at the head of the table. It’s been this way all my life. My mother, beside him. My sister, my cousins, my uncles, my aunts. They each have their place. In front of each spot at the table lays a book. The Haggadah. The story of our people, of this holiday. Passover. Recall: we once were enslaved in Egypt but have since been freed. Freed. It’s the same each year. The blessings. Four cups of wine to drink. Hidden matzah. A plate of symbolic foods. An extra seat for Elijah the prophet. All the same. And yet, this year, it’s different. My mother: “Remember that time when…” My father: “Yeah, I do.” He lies. We all know it. You can always tell when he’s lying. That half-hearted smile. That compelling look of shame. His memory. It’s going. This year, there’s one more wrinkle on his tired, well worn face. I notice it. Right below his left eye. It sags. Downward. Like his spirit. The four questions are recited. “Mah nishtanah…” Why on this night? my youngest cousin asks. Her voice is loud. It rings off the walls. Why… I take my baby niece. I sit her on my lap. Why… She watches in wonder. She doesn’t know that one day it will be her turn to ask. Why… My father forgets to turn the page. He gets lost and confused. Why… I wonder if he even truly remembers why we are celebrating.
III. Golgotha — The Crucifixion
I am sitting at my desk. There’s so much work to be done. The news is on. Volume turned low. I pound away at my keyboard. This website is due by the end of the business day, I remind myself. Just a bit more coding. Cross browser test. Launch. That’s all. I got this, I reassure myself. Something catches my eye. Something on the T.V. I glance up. An image on the screen. A little boy. Three, at most. He quivers. Takes a deep breath. Quivers again. They are spraying him with water. His eyes — piercing. Those eyes. They stare directly at me. He quivers more. I rush to the T.V., turn the volume up. I hear just one word: “Syria.” Another image. More children, then more words. “Possible gas attack.” An image of bodies. They lie there. My God! More bodies. These bodies — they don’t move. People run. Little children lie limp in strangers arms. My God! I don’t want to see this, but can’t look away. A photograph now.
A man holds his children. Two babies. Twins. My God! He is smiling. Comforting them. He’s relieved. But he doesn’t know yet. My God! He doesn’t realize it. He expects them to hug him back. But they don’t. My God! My God! Why have you forsaken them…
IV. Aripsalin — New Life
There’s a flower blooming. A Jack-in-the-Pulpit. It’s the first one I’ve seen this year. I noticed it just the other day, when I went out for a hike. There within a pile of brush, at the base of the hill. I stopped for a moment to admire it. It stood regal and proud, though not yet fully bloomed. Its iridescent body glowed among the surrounding mahogany. A stripped-scarlet inside was hidden in the underbelly of the leaf. I could barely make out its tell-tale middle stem. Its three leaves had not fully opened. If I had seen it just a few days before, I may have mistaken it for poison ivy. It seemed lonely, but resilient. I left it to live its day in full, a testament to the wonders of nature. Today I return to see its progress. I am surprised to see it has fully bloomed. The leaves — they are now open. The parson, Jack — he is now perched in his tiny pulpit. This flower can’t speak. It’s muted. Stopped by its own biological limitations. No voice to shout. But still, I can hear. It speaks to me by example. What I hear: Life is good. Life is sacred. Life is special. Life — even in the brush, even in the decay — it can be renewed.Life, it shouts, is the miracle. Life. Yes, life. I hear it speak, even though it has no voice.
It may seem a little strange that I, an Appalachian Jew, would write meditations from two weeks of my life, following the Passion of Jesus Christ and based on the well-researched patterns of an ancient Coptic Orthodox Christian Holy Week liturgy, (a service still in use, but one I have never had the opportunity to attend.) But there’s a point to it: If you take nothing else from this piece, I hope you’ll take away this; in spite of where we live, who we worship (or don’t), regardless of the color of our skin, our politics or the language that we speak, we are all still human. Each one of us has a story to tell and we can all learn lessons from one another. I wish you peace, and a beautiful change in whatever season you are entering in your life and in your little corner of the world.
Photo credit: Jack in the Pulpit flower via Wikimedia Commons