The Menace of Holy Week

Yesterday we read the story of Mary’s anointing the feet of Jesus at Bethany; today  the story of Judas’s betrayal at the Last Supper. Just like all those photographs of the Titanic setting out on its first and last voyage, there is a sense of impending loss, of a strange and violent ending.

Read at other times, the beauty of Mary’s gesture, the extravagance of that pound of pure nard poured over Jesus’ feet, the sheer innocence of her love and generosity are completely disarming. Read in Holy Week and the story is full of forboding: she is anointing Jesus as a preparation for his death, without knowing she is doing so. Likewise, the story of the Last Supper. At other times, we concentrate on Jesus’ gift of himself and rejoice, but today we hear the words ‘Night had fallen’ and know it is night in the soul as well as in the sky: Jesus is about to be betrayed by one he loves, and that betrayal will lead to torture and death.

I wonder what was in Judas’s mind. Did he know what he was doing? Was he a bad man, or was he merely portrayed as such by the early Church as they struggled to make sense of their experience? For me, the real menace of the story comes from thinking how easily it could be you or I making the same mistake as Judas — thinking we could force Jesus into proclaiming who he was and ushering in the Kingdom. As we know, Jesus did proclaim who he was, and his death and resurrection have ushered in the Kingdom, but not in the way Judas expected.

Today, if we can find a few minutes’ silence, it is good to reflect on Judas and pray that we may be kept safe from sin. Later this Week we shall see the duel between good and evil which took place, once for all, on the Cross, but we are deluding ourselves if we think that we can escape a similar contest in our own lives. ‘Deliver us from evil’ is not a prayer to be said lightly, but we can be confident that we shall be heard. Evil’s triumph is only transitory; death is never the end of the story.

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The Silence of Holy Week

This is a week when words buckle under the strain of meaning. Already yesterday’s hosannas are forgotten. We are left with the dust and anonymous noise of the city streets, the quiet plotting taking place in private rooms. We are moving inexorably forward to the Lord’s Passion. The sense of looming menace increases hour by hour.

These first days of Holy Week are very precious. They are a time for silence and reflection. One of the ways in which we prepare in community is by reading the Last Discourse in John’s Gospel before Compline. As the words echo through the darkness of the oratory, we enter into our own darkness and know our need of a Saviour. Such knowledge does not cast down, because to know our need of God is also to know that he has bowed down to meet it, that throughout the terrible events of this Week we are held by a Love that is infinite and eternal.

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Palm Sunday 2012

Today, wherever our Palm Sunday celebration takes place, we are in Roman Palestine two thousand years ago. One question we might ask ourselves is, where do we stand? Are we with the crowd following Jesus and singing hosannas; with the bystanders, looking on from a safe distance; or with those indoors, dismissing what is taking place as just another riotous assembly it is better to keep clear of? Our answer can tell us a great deal about ourselves and the way in which we see the unfolding of Holy Week.

Holy Week is quite brutal in the way in which it demands choice from us. If, during the rest of the year, we are rather unremarkable Christians, regular in our church-going and dutiful in giving to good causes, but keen to avoid drawing attention to ourselves and definitely not the stuff of which martyrs are made, this week reminds us that in following Christ we have made the most radical choice imaginable, one we must live to the end. We cannot simply bumble along the way; we must deliberately choose to follow wherever Christ leads.

Today we begin our following with rejoicing, but a rejoicing which already has a hint of menace. On Good Friday we shall see where that menace will take us. For now, we  focus on Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem where we know he will be rejected. Nevertheless, we stand with him every inch of the way. It is a choice we make every day of our lives, not just during Holy Week.

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God’s Laughter

Yesterday my friend Richard Littledale and I had a brief Twittervation (conversation on Twitter) about the Book of Jonah (Richard is writing a book on Jonah, which I’m sure will be well worth reading). I mentioned the humour in Jonah as an echo of God’s laughter, and that has inspired today’s post.

God teases Jonah from start to finish, but it is the loving, gentle teasing of one who wants to rescue Jonah from his own stupidity. Jonah’s attempt to flee God was never going to succeed, but being swallowed by a big fish then vomited on the seashore must have wounded his dignity. All the same, his preaching must have been effective, because even the animals in Nineveh don sackcloth in response to his warning! Only, the Lord does not destroy Nineveh as he has forewarned, so Jonah goes off in a huff then has a misunderstanding about the castor oil plant which gives him shade from the sun. Finally God questions him about his right to be compassionate to all those people ‘who do not know their left hand from their right’. God’s laughter is gentle, but it is very, very eloquent.

There are other passages in the Bible where we catch the sound of God laughing. When God and Moses argue about the backslidings of the Israelites, there is a distinct touch of argy bargy: ‘your people whom you led out of Egypt’; ‘your people whom you led out of Egypt.’ It sounds like two parents disowning their offspring to one another. And in the gospels we find Jesus teasing his disciples again and again, especially poor Peter who is always misunderstanding (thank God for Peter, he gives us hope!) Jesus responded to humour in others: the Syro-Phoenician woman won him over by her quick-witted rejoinder about house-dogs eating scraps from the table.

Perhaps we have made religion in England too serious and not allowed God’s laughter to prick our self-importance as we should. There is a laughter that is destructive. We need to avoid that, but as we get closer to Holy Week, it does not hurt to remember that it is the whole person who is redeemed, not just the ‘religious’ bits.  Our antics must make God smile. It may be too anthropomorphic for some, but I trust that when we reach our final destination, purified by purgatory, we shall be greeted with a huge smile and, quite possibly, a great laugh.

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Palm Sunday 2011

Palm Sunday: Jesus enters JerusalemOur procession takes us to the dusty streets of Jerusalem two thousand years ago and the fickleness of popular acclaim. Even here, in the midst of a lovely English spring, there is a hint of menace. We know that all is not right, that those who are now shouting ‘hosanna’ will very soon be shouting ‘crucify him, crucify him’. The Passion narrative is one we must enter into, not merely hear with our ears. For each of us it will be different; for each of us it will be new. Do not be surprised if this week you are tired or a little less calm than usual. Holy Week makes demands on the believer at every level. We cannot truly celebrate the Resurrection if we have not accompanied the Lord Jesus along every step of the way beforehand. May God bless your Holy Week and make it fruitful. Pray for us, as we pray for you.

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Preparing for Holy Week and More on Faith 2.0

I spent much of yesterday trying to catch up with things. Among the letters and emails were a couple that made an impact because of their sheer unpleasantness. The writers clearly thought that it didn’t matter how they wrote or what they said. If a word fitly spoken is ‘like apples of gold in pictures of silver’, a word carelessly spoken can be more of a maggot, eating away at the heart of things and causing putrefaction. As we prepare to enter Holy Week, we should think about how we use words, and whether we build up or tear down.

It is very easy to assume that we are ‘speaking the truth in love’ and use that as a justification for dishing out all manner of hurt. In my experience, a little love  achieves more than a large amount of unvarnished truth. Who was ever lectured into becoming better? Most of us know that it is being loved and trusted that encourages us to try harder to merit the love and trust shown us. Benedict assumes that the abbot will have to use correction at times, but only when more positive methods have failed.

As we reflect on how we have used words, we may come to see that we need to ask forgiveness of others. As with so many aspects of the spiritual life, it is not just the forgiveness of God that we need but the forgiveness of the community, whether that community be our family or a wider group. ‘Sorry’ is a very little word, sometimes hard to say, but capable of breathing fresh life into many a difficult situation.  Admitting that we may be wrong, that we may have caused hurt, allows the grace of God to flow freely; just as withholding forgiveness from others builds up a barrier. So, if I have given offence in what I have written in the past few months, I apologize and ask your forgiveness. When we read the Passion narrative tomorrow, we shall be reminded that the Lord suffered the anguish of the Cross for our sins; and none is easier or more prevalent than sins of speech.

Breaking news
Digitalnun is one of the lucky 150 who have been invited to the Vatican Bloggers’ Conference, see here. There may be an interruption in normal blogging service while I look for cheap flights and somewhere to stay. Please pray for the success of the whole venture.

Faith 2.0 Conference Audio
All the audio of the presentations is now available on the RSA web site, divided into morning and afternoon sessions (be aware there is a LOT of excellent material).You can listen to Digitalnun’s keynote below and there is an online version of an interview with Aleks Ktotoski here (link opens in new window).  Many of those who participated in the Conference have uploaded reports and assessments which can be found using Twitter or Facebook.

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