When I was studying for the priesthood at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, the former bishop of Albany, Dan Herzog, made a visit. During his time with faculty and students, he told a story about the power of Easter I’ve never forgotten.
Bishop Herzog told of how, just after he was ordained to the priesthood, he was the administrator of a mental hospital. And during his tenure there, he ministered to a particular woman who suffered from schizophrenia. Her treatment, however, turned out to be most unusual. During the time in which Bishop Herzog met with her for therapy, Holy Week approached. The woman took an unexpected interest. She asked if she could go to church with him on Palm Sunday. He agreed, and took her to a small Anglo-Catholic parish nearby, and there they experienced together, in the Church’s liturgy and ceremony, the drama of the Passion narrative. The woman was so moved that she wanted to come back the next day. So they went back, together, on Monday. And then they were back on Tuesday, and Wednesday, and right into the Holy Triduum, taking in the whole story of Christ’s betrayal, suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection. (By the way, Triduum means literally, “Three Days” in Latin””and this refers to those three holiest of days of the Christian calendar: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, beginning at the Great Vigil Saturday evening.)
I don’t remember the details about exactly when it happened, but somehow in this process of experiencing the Easter story in the liturgies of the Church, the woman was healed. Bishop Herzog chalks it up as a bona fide miracle: after celebrating the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, this woman claimed to be cured of her schizophrenia. She was evaluated, soon thereafter, and was de-institutionalized. She then got a job, and got married, and went on to lead relatively healthy life.
Now, that is truly a powerful story. And it would be the height of foolishness on my part, in relaying it, to suggest that you can expect a miracle like that if you turn out for Holy Week, or more particularly for the services of Triduum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. (In fact, miracles are called “miracles” because they can’t be formulated or manufactured, and the Almighty seems to do them when people expect them least!)
But what you can expect, I think, if you are faithful during these holiest days of the year, if you take part in this great story of our redemption, centering your life in the passion and resurrection of Christ, is that somehow you will be changed. In some way, great or small, God’s Spirit will renew your heart and mind as you remember these “mighty acts” of Christ, transforming you in some way for your good and for his glory. And you will find yourself on Easter Sunday, in some way, a little more free, a little more healed, a little more healthy and whole.
The truth is that in all miracles, God is just showing us how he is transforming and healing all of creation. C.S. Lewis, once writing about the extraordinary miracles that occur in the Gospels, said, “I contend that in all these miracles alike the incarnate God does suddenly and locally something that God has done or will do in general. Each miracle writes for us in small letters something that God has already written, or will write, in letters almost too large to be noticed, across the whole canvas of Nature.”
That’s what you can expect. That in the drama of Christ’s passion and resurrection, God’s work in renewing creation will be poured deeper into your heart and life.