The Sacrament and The Dark Night of the Soul

The Liturgy as Narrative

Part VII

Act II Scene IV

Service of the Sacrament

“On the night Jesus was betrayed…”

He sat down for dinner with his friends. A simple meal; bread and wine. He had brought them along in his ministry for three years; teaching them, encouraging them, and asking them to give up everything to carry on without him.

He warned them multiple times how his ministry would end; When they returned to Jerusalem he would suffer and die. They didn’t understand, to the point where Peter said he would never allow it to happen. You can imagine their shock when Jesus tells them not only will it happen, but one of them will be the betrayer.

The Narrative

The Dark Night of the Soul is the part of the story where the hero believes all is lost. Every attempt to succeed thwarted and every resource spent. There is no turning back because even the path back to safety is blocked. It’s all over for the hero and by extension, us.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

Matthew 16:21 ESV

In this case, it’s not Jesus who is experiencing the loss, but rather the disciples. Jesus experiences a tremendous amount of stress and pain before and during his crucifixion, but he is well aware of the outcome. The disciples still don’t understand and are watching everything they believed come to a terrible cursed end.

We have an advantage over the disciples, we know how history proceeds after this point. We have to remind ourselves what was happening on this night in order to feel the weight of it. If we put ourselves in the place of the disciples, the narrative of the liturgy becomes dramatically compelling. It’s no longer just a meal, but a meal that ends in disaster. How do we recover from this moment of despair to experience the grand heights of the finale?

The Preface

The liturgy eases us into this part of the narrative with a blessing.

Pastor: The Lord be with you.
Congregation: And also with you.

Pastor: Lift up your hearts.
Congregation: We lift them up to the Lord.

Pastor: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
Congregation: It is right to give Him thanks and praise.

At this point the pastor narrates our praise, sometimes speaking it, sometimes chanting.

It is truly good, right and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to you, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord; for in the mystery of the Word made flesh You have given us a new revelation of Your glory that, seeing You in the person of your son, we may know and love those thing which are not seen. Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying

Sanctus

In reply, we sing out our praise to the Lord. We call it the Sanctus, the Latin word for holy.

Holy, holy, holy Lord, Lord God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

Words of Institution

The pastor blesses the bread and wine as he recites and sometimes chants the words of institution. These words, pulled from the Gospels and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, take us through the moment before the betrayal.

We see the ultimate victory because we know Jesus’ rises from the grave and defeats death. Even in victory, we remind ourselves of the darkness before the dawn. To forget, or ignore, the events leading to victory only weakens the meaning and the theological foundation of Jesus death and resurrection. So, the pastor reminds us by saying:

Our Lord Jesus Christ on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, and when he had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

It’s not over

When a doctor treats a wound there’s a time when he must cut even deeper and expose even more before he can begin the work of healing the body.

It’s no different with the soul.

Even after Christ has saved us, the Holy Spirit continues to expose the sinful wounds in our souls in order to continue His sanctifying healing work.

This dark night of the soul isn’t the end of the story. There is hope on the horizon.

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