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Thou in the midst of them

06 May 2022

Megan Dent’s plans for the Easter Triduum took an unexpected turn

Barry Lewis/Alamy

Road sign graffitied with Jesus on the cross, Florence, Italy

Road sign graffitied with Jesus on the cross, Florence, Italy

THE 2022 Triduum, I’d decided, would heal my broken heart and bind up my wounds. I lost my father in the summer (Faith, 18 February), and the grief has proved abiding and complex. Amid the turmoil of loss, I had my second baby. In long days — sometimes chaotic, sometimes slow and tedious — I’ve tried to move through the sorrow while building a sense of myself as a mother of two children under three. A cherished family friend lost his life a few months ago. It’s been a rough time.

I wanted to lay all of this at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. As I venerated and pondered anew the wounded, broken body of Christ, I’d find a way to make peace with the devastating memory of my father’s withering body. As Christ took his final breath and proclaimed, “It is finished!”, I would relive my father’s last breath, and find Christ there with him, making a way for him, vanquishing death for him. And for my friend.

Everything was set. I’d arranged childcare, and made plans to attend all Holy Week services with my beloved aunt, my father’s sister, who was with us when he died. We’d take the journey together.

On Holy Wednesday, at about the time in the liturgy when Judas steals out into the darkness of the night with his piece of bread, my seven-month-old began vomiting. By midday on Maundy Thursday, several other members of my extended household had fallen victim to the stomach bug. “Patient Zero”, as we called my youngest, still couldn’t hold anything down.

Rather than on my knees before the cross, on Good Friday I found myself in the darkened bedroom of the bare house that we’d rented near my family in California, tending sick and helpless babies — one of whom felt strongly, in his suffering, about watching a particular episode of the children’s animation Green Eggs and Ham on a constant loop. Not exactly the Miserere.

Spiritual disappointment closed in. So much for my moments with Christ on the cross, I thought. I needed those. What about my healing?

I wish I could say that the parallels between foot-washing and vomit-cleaning weren’t lost on me for a single moment. I wish I could say that gently caring for the sick at the expense of my own idea of personal redemption was such an obvious way into the true meaning of Jesus’s own act of service that I embraced it with a thankful spirit. But I’m afraid that the Judas in me was out, “as a roaring lion, walking about, seeking to consume more than to give”.

RELIGIOUS desires can seem noble by default. We assume that the impulse to be stirred by liturgy, to enter more deeply into prayer or healing, is honourable and good. And, most of the time, it probably is.

Except for when Christ shows up elsewhere — as he so often does. In the bare, darkened rooms with the helpless. When we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we find him on the borders, which is to say away from the centres, sometimes even the centres of worship. Or, as the bishop who confirmed me preached, years ago, we find him out in the darkness, looking for his friend Judas.

Christ is there in the churches on Good Friday. Of course he is. But those legions of venerated crosses-within-sanctuaries find their most powerful reverberations in entirely unsheltered places, where Christ rushes to sanctify — a word that combines the Latin for “holy”, sanctus, with the verb, facere: “to make, to do”.

It took illness in both of my children, my aunt, and my mother to impress on me this simple point: that Good Friday could be better spent in service of the scourged (broadly defined) than in the pews, hoping that the scourging and the crucifying and the rising, as we mark them in our worship, may make us feel better.

Far more than nursing one’s ill family, could there be any actions more apposite than those of Roman Fishchuk, and countless others like him, in Ukraine, who have spent recent days caring for those who are buckling under their crosses of injustice?

Dr Fishchuk is a young doctor who, following multiple bombardments on his area, took on hours of extra work on a nationwide volunteer medical hotline, and spends his Saturdays driving hundreds of miles in his car, delivering single injections of medication to patients who cannot — amid air-raid warnings — come into the hospital to receive them.

Such acts of Christly heroism put my scuppered Holy Week to shame; and they should. We are utterly humbled as we confront the body of Christ on the cross, and as we vainly try to fathom the reality of his suffering, undertaken so that we would not be alone in ours. For, at this very moment, and on every Good Friday, too many are bloodied, too many are crippled by the weight of the crosses that they are forced to carry.

ON EASTER EVE, my aunt and I lit two candles that we’d found in our rental house. We placed them next to some lilies that we’d got before the stomach deluge. The babies had rounded a corner, and were asleep.

Together, we listened to the Exultet, and were reminded that the work of the smallest bees, and of servants’ hands, can cohere to create a solemn offering to that most hallowed, broken, triumphant One.

And joy was brought to me, a mourner. All the more so in the doing, in the washing of rags, the holding of the sick and hurting.


Megan Dent is a freelance journalist.

Correction: A late error meant that a few words dropped out of Ian Bradley’s article about F. D. Maurice (Faith, 22 April). It should have read that Maurice “argued that God created human beings not to reward or punish them, but to give them eternal life. For Maurice, the key to understanding the concept of eternal life lay in detaching it from any notion of time.” We apologise for the error.

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