Mysterious lines point to meaning of Good Friday

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 27, 2002

"We shared in bearing one another's burdens in a spirit of compassion and reconciliation, and so set the community free."

The mysterious dark lines descended into the cup, revealing before my eyes a profound secret about community, freedom, and the meaning of Good Friday.

For my column this holiest week of the Christian faith, I would like to describe for you this experience I had.

It was a month before Christmas. I was attending an editorial meeting in downtown Calgary at the Catholic Pastoral Centre, the administrative offices of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary.

The meeting ended just before noon, and feeling especially weighed down by personal concerns, I decided to attend midday Mass in the centre's small chapel.

Seats were arranged in one crescent-shaped row along the width of the room facing the altar. On this occasion there were a dozen of us present. I was slightly right of the middle of the row, with the altar only two metres or so in front of me.

The altar was arranged as follows: To the edge of the altar toward me lay open the Sacramentary, the large book containing the words of worship read by the celebrant (priest) who stood behind the altar. Between the Sacramentary and the celebrant, in the centre of the altar, stood a very shiny silver chalice.

As the celebrant was beginning to recite the Eucharistic Prayer, consecrating the bread and wine, I became distracted by something I saw on the surfaces of the mirror-like chalice.

On the outside of the cup facing me was a perfect reflection of the Sacramentary. From the short distance at which I was standing, I could just about read the sacred words.

Then I noticed the inside of the rim of the opposite side of the chalice. I could see down a ways into the cup to the wine. There seemed to be about a dozen dark, thin marks descending from the rim down toward the wine. I wondered to myself why such a beautiful cup would be so stained.

Upon more careful observation, I noticed that the bottom of the middle mark seemed to have something fuzzy around it, and I suddenly realized it was an upside down image of me, and the group of dark marks were upside-down images of the twelve of us standing in the crescent facing the chalice.

With this distraction indelibly in my mind, I tried to refocus my attention on the celebrant.

Taking the Host (the bread) in one hand and holding it over the cup, he prayed the second part of the Memorial Prayer: "Look with favour on your Church's offering, and see the Victim whose death has reconciled us to yourself. . ."

While praying these words, he raised the cup. With the sacred words still reflected on the outside of the cup, the upside-down image of us standing in the crescent seemed to drop down out of sight into the cup, brought together into a point under the wine, the blood of Christ.

He continued, "Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ."

And that's exactly what seemed to happen in the visual experience before my very eyes. We were truly one in Christ Jesus, and whatever burdens, pains, anxieties, sins, joys, and concerns we brought with us to that moment were drawn down with the images into the consecrated wine, the blood of Christ.

The common cup of communion was then offered to each one present, and each person's individual concerns, mingled now as one in the wine, were collectively sipped by all. Thus – we in Christ and Christ in us, in an act grounded in the first Good Friday so long ago – we shared in bearing one another's burdens in a spirit of compassion and reconciliation, and so set the community free.

A few weeks later, I was thinking once more about the experience around the cup, when it occurred to me how that moment was a bridge between the cradle and the cross. I found the bridge in a line from a favorite Christmas carol:

"The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee."

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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