Thursday

There are old Eastern folk traditions that anyone who dies during Easter week is immediately ushered to paradise. The formal Orthodox funeral liturgy is in fact dramatically altered for those who die on Easter and before Thomas Sunday. “[L]ittle of the chanting which is ordinarily part of the office is retained. This is out of respect for the greatness and dignity of the resplendent feast of the Resurrection, which is a feast of joy and not lamentation. As we shall all rise in Christ, in the hope of the resurrection and eternal life, through this same resurrection of Christ the dead pass from the afflictions of this world to joy and happiness, and the church proclaims this in the hymns of the resurrection.”[n1]

But it is not yet Easter Sunday. The glory of the Resurrection is not even conceived in the hearts of Jesus’ followers. Today, Maundy Thursday, Jesus washes the feet of his friends and asks some of his closest to wait up with him. And they sleep while he despairs.

For millennia, today is the day that Christians observed the blessing of oil. In retrospect they celebrate what his friends could not know. Oil to consecrate priests and kings, and to heal all affliction:

O God…we entreat you to hear our prayers: that these fragrant tears of dry bark (which trickling down from a fruitful branch supply us with a rich ointment for the anointing of the priesthood) may be made acceptable to you for your sacraments, and sanctify them by giving your blessing…and whosoever shall be outwardly anointed therewith, may be so inwardly anointed that being freed from all contamination of bodily matter, he may rejoice in being made a partaker of the Kingdom of heaven.[n2]

I love Holy week, and the risen Lord. I love his oil and that unto which I have been anointed. But today, I fear. I am so tired.

__________________________

  1. Pierre Kovalevsky, “Funeral Rites in the Easter Season and Prayers for the Dead from Easter to Ascension” in Temple of the Holy Spirit: Sickness and Death of the Christian Liturgy, Matthew J. O’Connell, trans. (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1983), 100. As an interesting aside, Orthodox funerals are celebrated in white vestments, not black. Ibid., 95.
  2. Martin Dudley, “Rites for the Blessing of Oils and Anointing: The Western Tradition” inThe Oil of Gladness: Anointing in the Christian Tradition, Marin Dudley and Geoffre Rowell, eds. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1993), 176-210.

Comments

  1. Good stuff, J. The great and dreadful terror for me is that there is no Easter Sunday. Dare we believe?

  2. It has hardly seemed like Easter week, this year. The world and all its distractions is so pressing. That is another analogy, I think, for “they sleep while he despairs.” Thank you for this reminder, and teaching something more about Maundy Thursday that I did not know before.

  3. Duke of Buccleuch says:

    There is also another eastern Orthodox tradition that if a priest dies while saying ‘Mass’, or most especially while standing before the the altar behind the iconostasis, he is “most blessed” and is ushered into Paradise immediately. Does that apply to Latter-day Saints who die while either in Temple service or participating in baptism, endowment or sealing ceremonies?

  4. JA Benson says:

    Lovely. Thank you for the reminder.

  5. Meldrum the Less says:

    How about if you are so sick that you feel like your dying during Easter week? Like maybe God is trying to slap some sense into me? Think it will work?

    It was the last time I visited my mom before she died of Alzheimer’s dementia. The doorbell rang and a remarkably anorexic woman stood there with a plastic hose in her nose. She seemed spaced out like she was on drugs.She didn’t stay long but she definitely brightened up our day with her positive attitude. I peeked through the curtains and she was so weak that her teenage son who sat in the car had to carry her down the stairs. I asked my dad about her and he told me she was a friend from the ward who topped by frequently and she had stomach cancer. She died a couple of days later. I think she will be ushered into paradise before a guy who happened to have his heart attack in the temple.

  6. Holy and death. A hard mixture.

  7. hawkgrrrl says:

    Duke of B – as missionaries we used to say that if we died while on our missions we would immediately qualify for exaltation. Wishful thinking for sure.

  8. Duke of Buccleuch says:

    hawkgrrrl – I remember that “tradition” as well. And I agree that for the vast majority of us it is indeed wishful thinking. However, I once did become a friend of a missionary who, after we became good friends, confided in me that his life would be short. On the day of his release he told me that “the time is very close”. Four months later he was killed when a girlfriend of his fell asleep at the wheel of his car. She wasn’t hurt. This young missionary was a remarkable man, of whom one non-member said, “What is it about him? He is like an angel. It’s as if he doesn’t belong here. [mortality].” He had that effect on a lot of people. His brothers were of like calibre. Personally, I feel certain this man made the grade.

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