Baumstark's Law

by The Rev. Dr. Jason L. Parkin, Rector

There is in liturgical theology a principle known as "Baumstark's Law," named after the great 19th century liturgist Anton Baumstark. The "Law" is succinct: "The more profound the feast, the more ancient the practices employed to observe it." In essence, this means that at the holiest times of the Christian year, we tend to turn to the most ancient and profound rites to observe Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, his Last Supper with the disciples, his crucifixion, and, finally, his resurrection to new life. During Holy Week, as we re-member and re-enter these sacred and powerful moments, we utilize extravagant actions and rites to commemorate our Lord's Passion, actions we do at no other times of the year. We process through the church with palm branches and recite together the story of Jesus' Passion. We wash one another's feet, as Jesus washed the feet of the 12 during his last earthly night. We keep watch before the Blessed Sacrament through the night of the evening Jesus is betrayed into the hands of his foes. We strip the church of its furnishing and appointments; we sing exotic, haunting music from centuries long past; we share a meal together just as if we were with the Lord at the Last Supper. We kindle a fire in the rear of the darkened church at the Great Vigil as a symbol of the New Light coming to dawn in the resurrection. We do indeed go to striking and extraordinary lengths to observe the events of that awful and awesome week so long ago. But this is as it should be; for what we remember and relive at this time of the year is, above all, the story of God's striking and extraordinary love for God's people, a love made gloriously clear in the events of Holy Week and Easter.

The only response we can make to such incomprehensible love is to offer to God all that we have and all that we are and all that we do, and to do so with the finest and most faithful worship we can provide. It is my prayer that all of us will prepare for the fierce joy of Easter Day by walking with our Lord, and with one another, through the events of Holy Week; and that we may all experience anew the power and mystery of God's love for all of us. I exhort all of us to be attentive, as Lent continues and we approach Holy Week, to the ways in which we make ourselves ready for the new life which God promises-and has already begun to give us-in Christ Jesus. So come, walk the journey of Holy Week. Enter the story. Relive the events of our salvation. Be immersed, as fully and with as open a heart as possible, in the mystery of God's love for the human race.