Labor’s Stages: A Triduum
A journey of four days, each unique.
Holy Week reveals itself in new shades every year, shadows of dark and light. It pushes through the broken, cold dirt of Lent’s long winter with a fresh green curl of hope.
With only a few short weeks to go before baby’s birth, I see these feasts through a new slant. Each like its own stage of labor, particular and progressing. Anticipated but still unexpected.
The gentle beginning.
The increased pain.
The powerful transition.
The final push.
The question is how to journey through all four, patient and present, without wanting to skip over all that comes between.
. . .
When you know you’re in labor, call me, my midwife says, a steady confidence behind her steely grey eyes that have seen thousands of babies birthed into the world. We’ll meet you outside the hospital so we can walk and talk and decide when you want to go in.
And we’ll go get you some food first, she adds, turning to pick up the Doppler to check my baby’s heartbeat. You’ll need to keep up your strength for what comes next.
Holy Thursday is washing and feeding. Prepare your body: eat and drink. Let your feet be washed. Bend your own knees to serve others. Try to steel yourself for what comes next, the sacrifice and the suffering.
Except you can never ready yourself for what Friday will bring.
It will catapult you back into the arms of God.
. . .
An empty due date comes and goes. I am the only one who notices the anniversary.
Alone that night, I light a small candle. Another baby kicks and squirms inside me. Is it worth mourning when my body is rounded and ripe again? Of course. The heart once wounded never heals the same.
I remember how it broke me open, the birth-that-was-not-birth. When I walked into the hospital a month ago for routine tests, my whole body tensed at the memory.
I worry that contractions will trigger the fear and grief again. I worry that we could lose, again.
Good Friday is suffering and sacrifice. Step into a bare church, stripped stark of its presence. Listen to stories of hearts and bodies breaking. Remember the physical pain of love.
But do not forget that Saturday still waits. Dawn’s first hints that despair and loss will be overshadowed by strange new hope.
. . .
Baptism has many symbols, the deacon explains, ticking them off on his fingers while the couple in front of me fuss over their newborn in the car seat carrier.
Water. Light. Oil. A white garment. And one more in our church that you won’t find anywhere else. Can you guess what it is?
My head snaps back to attention, lulled into laziness by baptism classes before and theological studies before that. I wonder what he means.
Next time you walk by our baptismal font, take a look at its shape. It looks like a tomb. Or a coffin. Because we are baptized into Christ’s death before we rise with him to new life.
And we want our wriggling newborn to be plunged into precisely that, I think. Could anything sound crazier? Starkest darkness before the light.
Holy Saturday is waiting and transition. Pause for a moment between death and life. Sit in the tension between agony and delight. Hold a candle to welcome the newest Christians, the ones who shape their lives to a tomb filled in sorrow and opened in surprise.
So do not give up when you fear you cannot make it through. Transition means the joy is almost within your grasp.
. . .
Do you know what you’re having?
Again and again, perfect strangers pose the question. I have to bite back the sarcastic reply before it slips past my tongue―I think it’s a baby―and respond with a kinder smile. We’re keeping it a surprise.
After Easter Mass, the gathering space swells with people swarming into pews or spilling out into the parking lot. The grandmother of the family who often sit behind our motley crew reaches out to grab my elbow as I pass.
Remind me, are your boys getting a brother or a sister?
We’ll have to wait and see, I tell her. Not much longer!
She nods, satisfied. And turning to go, she adds: It will be a blessing for your family no matter what.
Easter Sunday is rising and revelation. The miracle bursting forth. What seemed impossible is now before our eyes in flesh and blood. Letting loose an Alleluia we have waited long to hear.
But still we hold traces of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in our Sunday grasp.
To remind us how the journey that brought joy was a winding road through mystery and death. This year, as in every other year. This birth, as in every other birth.