The Great Three Days
Crucifixion and Resurrection together are the church’s Pasch, her passing over from being no people to being God’s people, her rescue from alienation to fellowship, her reconciliation. Only as this is enacted in the church as one event is the Cross understood. What must happen is that the ancient single service of the Triduum, “the Three Days,” the continuous enactment of the Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, covering Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Night, be celebrated.
These words were penned by Robert Jenson, who died last September. Arguably the most important contemporary theologian in American Lutheranism, he asserted what many systematic theologians are reluctant to say – the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection isn’t so much explained as it is experienced. In fact, “good theology” comes as a reflection upon the church’s experience of God.
This year, the Three Days are celebrated at the end of March. The services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil are one liturgy extended over a three-day period. To miss one of these services is to miss out on the entire mystery.
When my unchurched friends ask me to explain God or Jesus, I tell them that I cannot do that. Instead, I will invite them to worship so that they themselves may get a feel for God. Just so, the death and resurrection of Christ is less a mystery to be understood and more a mystery under which we stand. We experience the Three Days in its entirety not as a reenactment of the past but the community’s engagement with the saving God in the present.
Do you want to “understand” the death and resurrection of Christ? Come to worship during the Three Days.
And when we journey through the Three Days, God engages us through signs and gestures and actions and symbols. We wash feet, strip the altar area, touch the wood of the Cross, light candles, drench people in water, and anoint them lavishly. Lighted candles drip with wax. Water is splashed on our bodies. We eat from a real loaf of bread and drink from a large cup. In these ways, messy as they are, God touches the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. We are saved from consigning God to the realm of concepts and abstractions. When touched by God in these ways, we are touched by God’s saving love.
Please join your sisters and brothers for the Three Days. If you’ve made other plans, cancel them. The annual Three-Day journey is worth the trip. It is nothing less than a journey from death to life.