Bruce Springsteen sang the truth I experienced this past Thursday evening at All Souls Cathedral: “In the end, what you don’t surrender, well, the world just strips away.”
After we shared the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, the church gradually descended into thicker darkness. Symbols of presence, speech, role, and position were removed from the sanctuary.
The bishop took off his pectoral cross and removed his outer vestments, leaving him dressed in a simple alb. His shepherd’s staff was carried-out.
There wasn’t a hymnal, a Book of Common Prayer, or a Bible left on the chancel.
Banners came down; lectern and pulpit were left bare of paraments, and cushions were taken off kneelers and chairs. Worship leaders carried out offering baskets, chalices, bread, and wine. They snuffed-out candles, removed the candlesticks, and took linens from the altar.
The bishop tenderly washed the altar, like a friend might washing the body of a dead loved one. Then he bowed to kiss the table.
The cross was draped in black. The void bore mute and palpable witness to absence and silence.
When the bishop gave up the signs of office, I pondered the ways in which life has been requiring me to let go of role and position.
When the priests took all the books away, I thought of the countless boxes of books stacked in my garage, books which, beyond their intrinsic value, are also symbols of my vocation. Will I give away the ones that are mostly symbolic rather than actually useful now? When? If I won’t and don’t, what does my reluctance mean?
“What we don’t surrender, the world strips away.” Or, as the Sufi poet Hafiz put it: “Before death takes away what you are given, give away what there is to give.”
In the silence which stretches from Holy Thursday evening until the Easter Vigil tonight, I hear an invitation that I want to embrace, but which I also resist: freely to surrender what I can, so that it won’t have to be stripped-away and creatively to give what is not actually mine in the first place.
On the other side that surrender is Easter.