The hauntingly beautiful Խաւարում (Khavaroom) vigil recalls the last night of Jesus’ life in the Garden of Gethsemane, his agony and prayer, his arrest, and Judas’ blatant betrayal (Matthew 26:36-43, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46). (Note: Although this all-night vigil begins on the evening of Holy Thursday, it concludes with the Morning Service on Friday, and so it is liturgically considered the first service of Holy Friday). The Lord asked his disciples to “wait” for him while he went away to pray, but instead of being “vigilant” and prepared for the Lord’s return, the disciples fell asleep. This seemingly insignificant incident is actually a representation of our own lives. Like the disciples, Jesus, although still present, has (physically) left us too for a time and has commanded us to wait for him, and so the ancient ceremony of Խաւարում is a liturgical response to the Lord’s mandate to remain prayerful and vigilant throughout our earthly lives, always prepared for his imminent return.
One of the many beautiful traditions of the Armenian Church is Թաղում (Taghoom), the Service of Burial, when we prepare and place a decorated tomb in the tas. But what is it that we are really doing when we celebrate this service? Is it a sentimental reliving of the past in order to re-mourn the death of Jesus Christ? As with any liturgical celebration, the Church is not participating in nostalgia. Rather than reenacting the drama of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, the Թաղում service is a recalling of our Baptism, something that has real presence in our lives. Remember, it is not the memory of Jesus’ death and burial into which we are baptized, rather when we are immersed in the waters of baptism, we are truly and mystically united to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5).
Much of this has to do with the Church’s perception of time. When Jesus, who is God, was born with human flesh and blood, eternity broke into time and space, divinity and humanity became one, and heaven and earth were united. Thus, the Church’s perception of time is not linear, but eternal, and so when we honor the crucifixion and death of Jesus, we are commemorating an historical event, something that, of course, took place in our perception of time, but it is not something that is fully or truly past, not just a date on the calendar. In fact, we share in the one, eternal sacrifice of our Lord every time we share the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. Again, we don’t go back in time to share this meal, but as the priest prays while the people sing Soorp Soorp,
You gave us the only-begotten Son…for he is distributor and he himself is distributed always in our midst without ever being consumed.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t approach our services on Holy Friday without solemnity, in fact, we are instructed to sing with a special solemn melody. But as Christians, we know how the story of the crucifixion ends. In fact, we give praise for the crucifixion! Listen to the words we sing during the Crucifixion Service (Կարգ խաչելութեան) which do not necessarily sound mournful:
We bow to your Cross, Christ
And we exalt your sacred sufferings
And we glorify your holy crucifixion…
Glory to your holy Cross, Alleluia
Glory to your sufferings, Alleluia
Glory to your crucifixion, Alleluia…
The life-giving Cross which became our salvation
Through this, we all praise you…
Again, we participate in the one sacrifice of Christ every Badarak, so rather than mourning all over again for the crucifixion and death of Jesus, our heart and approach should be one of celebration. As we sing the final hymn, Խաչն կենարար, reflect on the Cross and look to Jesus Christ who gives us eternal life now, in every moment.
Dn. Eric Vozzy