Holy Saturday: The Thanksgiving

My favorite poet, the seventeenth-century Anglican parson, George Herbert, composed this poem:

The Thanksgiving

Oh King of grief! (a title strange, yet true,
To thee of all kings only due)
Oh King of wounds! how shall I grieve for thee,
Who in all grief preventest me?
Shall I weep blood? why thou has wept such store
That all thy body was one door.
Shall I be scourged, flouted, boxed, sold?
‘Tis but to tell the tale is told.
‘My God, my God, why dost thou part from me?’
Was such a grief as cannot be.
Shall I then sing, skipping, thy doleful story,
And side with thy triumphant glory?
Shall thy strokes be my stroking? thorns, my flower?
Thy rod, my posy? cross, my bower?
But how then shall I imitate thee, and
Copy thy fair, though bloody hand?
Surely I will revenge me on thy love,
And try who shall victorious prove.
If thou dost give me wealth, I will restore
All back unto thee by the poor.
If thou dost give me honour, men shall see,
The honour doth belong to thee.
I will not marry; or, if she be mine,
She and her children shall be thine.
My bosom friend, if he blaspheme thy name,
I will tear thence his love and fame.
One half of me being gone, the rest I give
Unto some Chapel, die or live.
As for thy passion – But of that anon,
When with the other I have done.
For thy predestination I’ll contrive,
That three years hence, if I survive,
I’ll build a spittle, or mend common ways,
But mend mine own without delays.
Then I will use the works of thy creation,
As if I us’d them but for fashion.
The world and I will quarrel; and the year
Shall not perceive, that I am here.
My music shall find thee, and ev’ry string
Shall have his attribute to sing;
That all together may accord in thee,
And prove one God, one harmony.
If thou shalt give me wit, it shall appear;
If thou hast giv’n it me, ‘tis here.
Nay, I will read thy book, and never move
Till I have found therein thy love;
Thy art of love, which I’ll turn back on thee,
O my dear Savior, Victory!
Then for thy passion – I will do for that –
Alas, my God, I know not what.

      The Dead Christ by Philippe de Champaigne, c. 1650

Words, of course, almost fail on this great day of Holy Saturday. Herbert has captured the way in which God has fundamentally changed history. Hence, “The Thanksgiving.” Human nature has been transformed in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We have been remade to love with the love of God so that each of us can love “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”(Mt 22:37) We can and do often choose to do otherwise, but we can relearn it once again from Jesus’ “book,” that is, his life as we come to it in the Church.

The Church is the Community of Thanksgiving. The community of the Church is where the thanksgiving takes place. The wonder of the Church is that it is the continued expression of the life, death and resurrection of Christ and it will continue to speak grace and truth in human history until the Last Judgment. Here is the uniting force of the Church community. The Church is not a private channel between me and God. It is the “sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race.”(Vatican II) Mankind gives thanks in the Church for this wonder that God has done.

In this community, we sing the song of thanksgiving. As the priest says at the beginning of the celebration: “If we keep the memorial of the Lord’s paschal solemnity in this way, listening to his word and celebrating his mysteries, then we shall have the sure hope of sharing his triumph over death and living with him in God.”

In this Holy Week, we have again celebrated the way that the Eucharist becomes the core of the Church. In John Paul II’s words: “The Apostles, by accepting in the Upper Room Jesus’ invitation: ‘Take, eat’, ‘Drink of it, all of you’ (Mt 26:26-27), entered for the first time into sacramental communion with him.”

We have celebrated the start of the hierarchical Church – not a popular word, but the truth is never popular. As John Paul II explained: “the Apostles ‘were both the seeds of the new Israel and the beginning of the sacred hierarchy’. By offering them his body and his blood as food, Christ mysteriously involved them in the sacrifice which would be completed later on Calvary.”

And now we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Wonder of wonders: “The Lord is risen.” Truly, a boundless reason for Thanksgiving.

Happy Easter.