When the Rituals Make Sense

Last week, as we stood at the threshold of Holy Week, I published as my blog a version of Psalm 51 by Norman Fischer, a man who grew up in the Jewish community and became a Zen teacher.  His book, Opening to You, seeks to present the essence of the psalms through the filter of Fischer’s Zen experience and practice.  I chose Psalm 51 because it is used in The Episcopal Church on Ash Wednesday to set the tone for the Lenten season, and I thought it made sense to renew that tone as we were about to enter Holy Week.

There is one verse of Fischer’s Psalm 51 that particularly got my attention last week, and which continues to resonate with me as we stand on the threshold of the Great Three Days (in Latin, the Triduum, referring to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter).  Here is the verse:

A humbled heart, quiet and receptive, You will always receive.  Take it and make Zion strong.  Take it and pile high the walls of Jerusalem.  And then the rites and rituals will make sense.

I was struck in this rendering by the relationship between “heart” and “ritual”.  In ancient understanding, including Hebrew understanding, the heart was used to refer to that which was the essence of a person, the core of being, the place where the human and divine meet.  This verse of Psalm 51 says that when one’s heart is humble, “quiet and receptive”, God will “take it” and make use of it.  “And then the rites and rituals will make sense.”

Whenever we approach the annual celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection, we encounter mystery, confusion.  We want proof, but there is none to be had – at least not in a conventional way of thinking.  Ultimately, Resurrection is and always will be a mystery.  The invitation and the challenge of Easter is to have the courage (another “heart” word!) to entrust ourselves to this mystery.  We are invited on Easter morning to humble our hearts – that is, to turn away from all our temptations to overthrow the mystery with our attempts to rationalize it – and to be quiet and receptive to the mystery of new life in Christ.

When we are able to do that, when we are able to entrust ourselves to the mystery of Resurrection, then the rites and rituals will make sense.  Then, the celebration will come alive to us, and we will discover the ways in which the new life that is in Christ becomes new life in us.

May the joy and blessing of the Risen Christ find you this Easter.

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