And it was night

Those four words in John 13.30 say it all for me

‘And it was night.’ 

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A dark cloud hovers in a holy place

It feels as though the rest of this drama, which began in sunshine and optimism will be played out in gloom and darkness.  The row that began at the table in Bethany, as Jesus and his disciples enjoyed the too generous hospitality of their hosts, spills over into what is going on in the Upper Room.

It has been an intense day and emotions are running high and tempers are getting frayed. As we saw earlier in the week Jesus’ teaching no longer caused amazement but anger among the teachers who heard him.  His provocative act as soon as he entered the Temple in overturning the tables had set people against him.  Those who had been glad to see him on Palm Sunday where it all looked like a party are now beginning to think again.

The Chief Priests and the Pharisees are disturbed

‘What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.’ (John 11.47-48)

They can see storm clouds gathering around them and threatening everything they hold dear, not least their power and their positions. And when Caiaphas speaks up and says

‘It is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.’ (John 11.50)

the beginnings of a plot are hatched.  And a disgruntled insider who has been storming around are just what they need.

John Donne in his sonnet, ‘Crucifying’, hits, as it were, the nail on the head

He faith in some, envy in some begat,
For, what weak spirits admire, ambitious hate;
In both affections many to Him ran.

We see all of that in the reactions of those around him, and in ourselves, and in myself.  The mixed emotions of that fateful evening are mixed up with the mixed emotions around the table, the envy, the ambitions (who can forget the uncomfortable ambitions of the mother of James and John), the fear, the confusion, the doubts and the love.  It is a heady mix into which Jesus breaks bread and says ‘This is my body’ and takes a cup of wine and says ‘This is my blood’.  And that is the same for the church every time we gather at the altar and look at each other and wonder why we are there. Our motives are not clear but clouded, we do not operate always in the clear light of day but often in the night.

It would be lovely if when the priest says to us from the altar at the end of Mass

‘Go in the peace of Christ’

and we repond

‘Thanks be to God.’

that that were both honest and true.  But clouds hover and darkness settles even around the church as the last three weeks of the ‘Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’ has shown all too clearly and painfully. However much we might wish the church were different, it isn’t.  We are up to our eyes in the mess of the world, we are groping in the darkness, living under a cloud, doubting and uncertain.  The poet R S Thomas makes that quite clear in his poem ‘The Coming’

Look he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. 
We live in that scorched land and into it Jesus comes.  Thomas’ poem ends with those chilling, thrilling words
Let me go there, he said.
And into that stormy room Jesus brings a bowl and a jug and a towel, and, despite their protests, washes their feet. And onto that stormy table Jesus places bread and he brings wine and shocks them with the offering of himself. Jesus gifts them with the sacrament of hospitality, washing and feeding, even though in their gloom and confusion they cannot understand what on earth is going on, even though it is night.  And when the church is groping forward in the night as she is today Jesus washes us and feeds us, even though we don’t know how to accept this sacrament of hospitality in our darkest moments.
Did Jesus whisper ‘Go in the peace of Christ’ as Judas stormed from the room and it was night? ‘In both affections many to Him ran.’ and many ran away under the cover of darkness – and still do.
Lord Jesus,
shine into my darkness
and dispel the shadows of night
to which I so often run for cover.
Amen.
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A storm breaks out

It’s great when there is somewhere we can use as a ‘bolt-hole’, somewhere we can go for a bit of peace and quiet, where we know we will be well looked after, fed and watered and no one is going to make any demands on us.  In reality that is a bit of a fantasy, such a place is a very rare thing indeed and, to be honest, most places where we look to take a break demand something of us in return.

Jesus was fortunate that three of his friends lived just over the other side of the Mount of Olives in a small town called Bethany. There has been a great deal of discussion about what the name of that town, which pilgrims still visit, actually means.  But it looks like people have settled on the definition being ‘The House of the Poor’ and one suggestion is that it was called this because it was the location of an ‘almshouse’.  That sheds a whole new light on what happened in the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, the friends of Jesus who lived in Bethany and to where he retreated each evening at the beginning of this final week.

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Mary and Martha and Jesus

This was a house of hospitality, we have seen that before in the gospels when Mary and Martha row in front of Jesus about who is doing the cooking? But even though there was a dispute about the practicalities the hospitality itself was not in dispute.  This was also a house of sorrow and of joy, all because of Lazarus.  He had died and his sisters were plunged into deep distress and so was Jesus when he finally joined them and raised their brother from the dead.

So, a meal had been organised and John tells us all about it (John 12.1-8). Martha was serving (there was no row about this this evening), Lazarus was with Jesus at the table and Mary? Well Mary was again at Jesus’ feet.  Last time she was sitting at them, listening attentively to his teaching.  But now she was anointing them with costly ointment and wiping them with her hair.  It was the ointment, Nard, that caused the problem.

Nard was expensive, I mean really expensive.  John tells us that the oil that Mary was using on Jesus’ feet cost three hundred denarii – that was a years’ wage for someone and Judas knows that, everyone knows that – there was no hiding the smell, ‘the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume’ (John 12.3).  Suddenly there was a whiff of something else in the air, a cloud of anger in the room.  The row breaks out.  They all know there is an almshouse down the road, tending to the needs of the poor and next door money is being wasted on this scale.  It is scandalous.  Yet, in some ways this was a trigger for everything else that would happen.  As John tells us in his account of the events in the Upper Room on what we call Maundy Thursday

Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. (John 13.29)

The issue of the poor had not gone away and as Judas storms out of the home in Bethany and as he storms from the table in the Upper Room the clouds really do gather.

In the House of the Poor generous and well-meaning motives cause a storm.  We never quite know in life what is going to kick off a whole series of events and when the deluge will begin.

Jesus,
when we are caught up in a storm
bring your calm
and your peace.
Amen.

A clap of thunder

The once sunny sky must have become cloudy.  Someone thought that they heard thunder.  They were listening to Jesus teaching.  This is what Jesus was spending his time doing; he could never stop it, never stop teaching the people.  After all he was a natural.  When he was twelve years old, and in this very temple, he was found with the teachers.  His parents were searching for him; they had lost him among the group of their friends with whom they were travelling, and returning to Jerusalem there they found him, seated with the teachers, teaching.  Luke tells us about the reaction of everyone to what he was saying

‘All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished.’ (Luke 2.47-48a)

What a difference a few years make.  Now, when Jesus is teaching in the Temple, it is not amazement, astonishment that is the reaction of those who teach but anger, when they hear him they want to kill him.  But not all of them, of course, not Joseph of Arimathea, not Nicodemus, not Gamaliel.  They were teachers, they were leaders of the Pharisees, they were secret supporters of Jesus but were they also those who some years earlier had been seated discussing the finer points of some texts when a young lad had wandered up to them, sat down, listened and then asked that most insightful question? Is that where their discipleship began?  Did they become students of this teacher at that moment of revelation, were they those who were amazed and had they been looking out for his return from that moment onward?  They had seen him ‘carted off’ by his relieved but angry parents who were amazed to find him in such company, the gentle mother and the father with carpenter’s hands, but had they been looking out for their teacher, until now?

People came from all over to listen to Jesus.  John tells us that some Greeks came along, found Philip who found Andrew and together they found Jesus, teaching, and they too were spellbound by what he had to say.

And then there was a thunderclap.  Those threatening clouds were gathering and one caused the sun to disappear for a moment and the early spring heat and the early spring light disappeared with it.  There was a clap of thunder, just one.

‘The crowd standing there heard it.’ (John 12.29)

They thought that it was God speaking because God had a habit of speaking out of thunder clouds or at least that had been Moses’ experience.  And the teacher teaches.

But all was not right with Jesus.  He was doing what he loved doing, teaching, in the temple, the place where it all began, but something was not right.  In fact that thunder clap was part of the cloud that had gathered for him, in him.

‘Now my soul is troubled.’ (John 12.27)

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We have lived in Southwark Cathedral for the whole of Lent with a cloud hanging over us, the cloud which the artist, Susie MacMurray, created and called ‘Doubt’. It has hung there as a reminder of our own clouds, of doubt and unknowing, but also of trouble and depression, the black dog day cloud that can be all too real for people, every day, for a season, for a time.  We have been recognising that such clouds are part of our reality and that, despite what I said on Sunday, it isn’t always ‘Sunny in Philadelphia’; I know, I have been there in the rain! Jesus could teach, eloquently, beautifully, life-changingly about the light and the dark as the cloud hovered but there was an internal cloud that had bubbled up.

Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”?’ (John 12.27)

We shall hear him pray that prayer again, in the dark, in the garden but for now he answers his own prayer

‘No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ (John 12.27-28a)

and he carries on teaching as the rumble of divine affirmation sounds around them. But the clouds won’t disperse that easily and, sometimes, neither will ours.

Lord Jesus,
you know what a troubled soul feels like.
Rumble your affirmation
into my own troubles
and teach me to see the light
through the darkness.
Amen.

A storm brews

It had been a lovely day when Jesus came down the Mount of Olives.  There was a party atmosphere, the crowds were out, the sun shone and the sky was clear.  There was no doubt in anyone’s mind – not in Judas’ who would betray him, not in Peter’s who would deny him, not in Thomas’ who would doubt him – this was the right thing to do.  This was the last stage of a journey that had taken them from their former life by the Sea of Galilee, through the towns and villages of that region to this great city, another world.  They had seen some amazing things on the way, the sick healed, the dead raised, the excluded included, storms were calmed, fish were caught, sins were forgiven and their fame had spread. Their fame had spread, not just that of Jesus, but all those who were travelling with him.  After all they had all gone off, two by two, to proclaim the Good News and they came back with such stories.  They were all celebrities.

So this felt like the culmination of all of that, this final leg of the journey, down the Mount and into the Temple.  No one was in any doubt that this was the right thing to do, no one.

The donkey was handed back, they washed in the mikveh and made their way up the steps that led to the first of the courts that surrounded the Holy of Holies, the place where none but the High Priest could go.

We’ve all seen it happen – a lovely day, a picnic taken out, the family on the beach, the barbecue set up in the back garden, the paddling pool filled, ready to make the most of the sunshine and then someone looks up and notices a huge storm cloud that has bubbled up out of nowhere.  ‘Where did that come from?’ someone cries. There’s a clap of thunder and the heaven’s open as picnic, deck chairs, children, uncooked sausages are rapidly gathered up and all head for shelter. ‘Typical … whatever happened to a proper British summer?’

It had all seemed like sunshine.  But Jesus’ face was suddenly dark and stormy and the disciples had all noticed it.  They had come through the entrance and had been confronted by the reality in the Temple, they had entered ritually clean to be met with the filth that was going on.

Cleansing Temple El Greco 1591

The Cleansing of the Temple by El Greco

 

Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
but you are making it a den of robbers.’
(Matthew 21.12-13)

Archbishop William Temple wrote, ‘His coming means a purge.’ Jesus, like a storm breaking out, all of a sudden, purges and cleanses, and the ritual baths at the approach to the temple overflow in the deluge that ensues.  As John Donne write in his sonnet ‘Temple’

Nor had time mellow’d Him to this ripeness ;
But as for one which hath a long task, ’tis good,
With the sun to begin His business.

Those summer storms pass quickly – but perhaps this storm will take longer to pass over Jerusalem – it has been threatening for a long time and has come to ripeness.

Lord Jesus,
do not look on me with anger
but purge me
and wash me
into newness of life.
Amen.

A cloudless sky

It was a beautiful spring morning, not a cloud in the sky and Mary was about her normal tasks, helping her mother, Anne, to look after the home whilst her father, Joachim, went about his business.  There was one well in Nazareth and so that was where everyone gathered – or at least the women did – at various times in the day.  It was Mary’s task to go early, to get water so that the work of the day around the house could begin.  So, empty water jar in hand, she made the journey from their house to the place where the well had been dug.  There was not a cloud in the sky and Mary’s heart thrilled as she looked up and saw the deep blue of a spring morning in Palestine.

There were not many women at the well when she arrived, it was still early, and so Mary took a moment to sit and to pray.  Her mother had taught her about the great matriarchs of the faith Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Ruth amongst others, and how they had lived out their faith in hard times when the children of Israel were moving from place to place, seeking a homeland.  Mary had herself moved, but she had been too young to really remember it.  She was born in Jerusalem, the capital city, the focal point of her religion, the place of the Temple and the place where God abided with his people.  She was born close to the Pools of Bethesda, close to the Lion Gate in the city wall and on the edge of the Mount of Olives.  Her mother had relatives just over those hills in Bethany.  But the need to find work had forced her family to move and Mary, as a child in her mother’s arms, had been taken from Judea to Galilee, from Jerusalem to Nazareth, a well trodden path.

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Mary at the well from the mosaics in St Mark’s Venice

She had a vague memory of those pools and those hills as she rose to draw water from the well.  There was not a cloud in the sky but all of a sudden she felt, overshadowed, there was no other word for it.  She had not felt empty but now she felt filled; she had not felt dead but now she felt alive.  She knew without doubt that she was to bear a son, a special son, that she was to be a mother to a child like no other.  There was no cloud to overshadow her but she felt overshadowed.  There was no doubt, just faith that what God had whispered to her would be fulfilled.

Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ (Luke 1.28)

Pilgrims to the Holy Land will visit the Church of St Anne, a most beautiful crusader building by the remains of the Pools of Bethesda and near to a less visited church which just says outside ‘The Birthplace of the Blessed Virgin Mary’. They will also travel to Nazareth and perhaps their coach driver will drop them off just a mile of so from the Basilica of the Annunciation, at Mary’s Well, where they will be told by their guide that for the Orthodox community this is the place of the annunciation and not where most pilgrims remember it.  I love the idea that it happened outside by living water, perhaps under that cloudless sky, Mary, like her predecessors and like the woman at Jacob’s Well in St John’s Gospel, having significant encounters where water was drawn.

Susie MacMurray’s installation ‘Doubt’ has been part of our Lenten journey this year, overshadowing the choir of Southwark Cathedral, a dark cloud.  But Mary’s overshadowing that Luke refers to in his gospel was different.  Not the shadow of dark clouds but of gentle wings as she received the angelic message.

It was a beautiful spring morning, not a cloud in the sky and people were about their normal tasks. But the stillness was broken by the sound of voices, the sound of singing, even the rocks on the hillside seemed to vibrate with the sound.  Then the crowd came over the crown of the hill and the full force of the noise was experienced.  Down the Mount of Olives came this band of people surrounding a man on a donkey.  They were waving branches they had torn from the trees, they were creating a carpet with their own clothes for the donkey to walk over.  And when in full sight of the city the procession halted.  And they looked.

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Jesus enters Jerusalem

 

Spread before them was the city and the Temple, gleaming in the sunshine on this cloudless day.  The man got off the donkey and wept, Jesus wept.  Out of joy, out of sorrow, out of love – out of all of these and more besides.  But the crowd were not for stopping and he remounted the donkey and they continued towards their destination.  They could have taken the Lion Gate, which would have passed by his grandparents house, where his mother, Mary, had been born, but that would have led them straight to the Antonia Fortress where the Governor, Pontius Pilate, was based – and he had no desire to encounter him.  So they headed for the way in for all the pilgrims, to the place where the mikvehs were located, the Jewish ritual baths for purification, before they climbed the steps into the Temple courts.

The whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
(Luke 19.37-40)

They were in no doubt, these followers who proclaimed him as the awaited king and nor was he, it was a cloudless sky.  Washed clean for entry, with confidence, Jesus and his friends entered the Temple.

This year Palm Sunday falls on what would be the Feast of the Annunciation.  The passion of Jesus is inextricably linked to the incarnation and it is a good reminder of that fact and both divine events, it seems to me, are cloudless.  There’s an American comedy that we can still find on the TV, ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’ and both these events, the annunciation and the triumphal entry, seem to be like that, events played out in the clear sunshine.  But clouds are bubbling up below the horizon. As John Donne reminds us in his sonnet, ‘Annunciation’

That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo ! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb.

We must watch the sky.

Lord, as I enter with you
this Holy Week,
may I watch with you
as the clouds descend.
Amen.

Triduum

All over the country people having being begging or borrowing a donkey from a local farm, organising the palm branches and praying for decent weather so that the Palm Sunday procession can take place as both planned and looked forward to.  For many churches this is the only occasion when they take their liturgy out of the church and into the street.  If you haven’t tried it I thoroughly recommend it.

Many years ago now I was Parish Priest in the Parish of Richmond Hill, Leeds and our three churches, All Saints, St Hilda’s and St Saviour’s loved to take religion out of the church and into the community.  Whether it was our May Festival with a bobbing around statue of Our Lady on the shoulders of some of the parish lads, Corpus Christi with the monstrance, or Palm Sunday and then a procession with the cross between the three churches on Good Friday, as well as carol singing in the streets and in the pubs in the run-up to Christmas, we all loved it.  This was witness, this was mission.  People scratched their heads wondering what we were up to or shouting ‘What’re you up to, Father?’ And that gave us the opportunity to tell them and to invite them to join us.

So I’m delighted that each year the congregation of Southwark Cathedral begins Palm Sunday not inside, but outside the building and in the Borough Market.  The liturgy begins, the Palm Sunday gospel is read and the choir sings their hosannas.  With holy water and with incense the palms are blessed and then we all process into the Cathedral through the streets.  And people in the open-topped tourist buses look down, and some may recognise what we are up to and others may wonder, but everyone notices and the pictures go up on Twitter and Facebook.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday in the Borough Market

 

This blog is titled ‘Triduum’ and before you send me a message telling me that I don’t know what I’m talking about, I do know that Palm Sunday is not part of the Great Three Days, which is precisely what the word Triduum means.  But you can’t get to Maundy Thursday when those three days that changed the world began without passing through Palm Sunday. Jesus had to enter Jerusalem if he was to be expelled from it, carrying his cross outside the city wall to those places of death and burial.

For the past few years I have done a special blog for Holy Week – ‘Passion in Real time’ and ‘Calvary Bound’ and you can still read those.  So this year I thought I would just put onto this blog some meditations for the Triduum itself.  The reason I wanted to be able to set down some thoughts is because, as some of you will know, I was on sabbatical last year and for six weeks of that I was living in Jerusalem.  Each day I was out discovering new places and walking old paths.  I know that as we go through each of the days of this Holy Week and as we celebrate Easter, I will be reliving some of the experiences that I had there.  So I invite you in joining me in some of those reflections.

Almost all pilgrims to Jerusalem will begin their visit looking down from the Mount of Olives and seeing spread out in front of them the fabulous view of the Old City with the Dome of the Rock in the foreground and in the middle distance the grey dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  It is an amazing view, breath-taking and though in the distance you can see the towers and tall buildings of modern west Jerusalem, you know that it is something, something like the view that Jesus saw that made him weep.  You walk the steep path down the side of the mount knowing that the triumphal Palm Sunday procession passed this way, knowing that countless generations of worshippers, like the pilgrim of the 4th century, Egeria, have followed the same path, doing the same things, hearing the same gospel, singing the same hosannas.

But I suppose that for me when of the particular memories of being in Jerusalem was being taken to Bethphage.  This little village is just over the crest of the Mount of Olives and is halfway down the eastern slope before you get to Bethany.  That town was of course the home of the friends of Jesus, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  He may have begun his Palm Sunday journey from their home but it was when he got to Bethphage that he mounted the donkey and rode the rest of the way.

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The mounting black at Bethphage

 

As a result of the construction of the wall that divides Jerusalem from the Palestinian territories in the West bank it is now impossible to follow the journey that Jesus made.  He would have been stopped by the wall if he tried it now.  But close to the wall is a lovely Franciscan church which commemorates that first day of Holy Week in the frescos around the wall.  But close to the sanctuary is something more beautiful.  Enclosed now in glass is the ‘mounting block’ that Jesus is supposed to have used when mounting the donkey.  He didn’t use it of course, it’s a Byzantine invention, but it is beautiful.  On each of the four sides are the most lovely paintings of the events of that day, reminders of the powerful nature of the events that we have been remembering.

Many congregations will have been singing the traditional Palm Sunday hymn as they made their way from start to finish.  ‘Ride on, ride on in majesty’ was written in 1827 by Greenwich educated Henry Hart Milman

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
O Christ, your triumphs now begin
o’er captive death and conquered sin.

That second verse captures something so important about this entry, the ‘lowly pomp’ that will be reflected on a number of occasions as we enter those Great Three Days, that Triduum as the triumphs now begin.

Almighty God,
whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain,
and entered not into glory before he was crucified:
mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross,
may find it none other than the way of life and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

My Holy Week – The Eighth Day

Yes, I know, it’s not Holy Week but that’s my point. This Sunday is one of my favourite days in the year. We call it ‘Low Sunday’ for some reason but in many ways it’s as high and celebratory as last Sunday, as Easter Day itself. This is the eighth day, we have come full circle, back to where we began. But there is no sense of deja-vu, this is a new beginning in itself. That’s why it’s so sad when people seem to think that this is a Sunday they can legitimately have off, as though arriving at Easter Day was such an effort that they need to put their spiritual feet up, turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. There is no such thing as a Low Sunday. Every Sunday is a feast of the resurrection, every Sunday is an eighth day, a recapitulation of the resurrection – and it is thrilling.

That sense of repetition is found in St John’s account of what happened this day.

‘A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.’ (John 20.26)

Thomas meets Jesus on the eighth day

Thomas meets Jesus on the eighth day

They were there again, in that room where everything seemed to happen. But as John goes on to say ‘the doors were still shut’. But Jesus breaks into that space and says ‘Peace be with you.’ It was the same greeting as on the first day and Thomas was there to hear it.

The church exists in this eighth day. We’re people of the new creation and whilst the first day of the week is important it is always the eighth day for us when new creation, resurrection happens.

I’m sorry that Octaves in the life of the church seem to have diminished in importance. The Easter Octave remains quite powerful, the Christmas one seems to be less so – and that is it, no more Octaves in the calendar. But this cycle of eight days of celebration that we can have serves to reinforce this point that the Christian week extends beyond the week, that we haven’t finished celebrating until we revisit the feast, revisit the place, for as Eliot says in his poem ‘Little Gidding’

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

So this for me has been a week of celebration, Easter Week, brought full circle to this Octave Day and then beyond. For we’re called to live in the new, not the old creation, in the new, not the old dispensation, in the new not the old covenant and to know that peace which Jesus brings again and again into the spaces where he finds us.

Lord, easter me,
recreate me,
not only on the first,
not only on the eighth,
but on every day.
Amen.

My Holy Week – Easter Day

It was being verged into the Cathedral to preside and preach at the 9.00am Eucharist when it struck me. The forecast had not been so good for today – rain, heavy showers, even thunder it said on my phone. But we had been able to go into the churchyard during the Vigil and the Bishop had lit and blessed the new fire there – and the rain held off. But as I walked into the Cathedral for the next eucharist the sun had risen to a point where it was shining directly through the east window with such brilliance. It was almost blinding in its intensity and surprised me – I hadn’t realised the sky had cleared and the sun was shining. There was something so thrilling about it and whatever the rest of the day held, weather-wise, that was a blessing in itself.

Sun

The day has continued in that way. At the Choral Eucharist there was hardly a seat to be had in the Cathedral, everywhere there were people. What was amazing was that people had remembered to change their clocks, to lose an hour and still come to the Cathedral. I looked down the nave and into the transepts and it was like the world in miniature – people of all ages, people from all backgrounds, women and men, old and young, people who I knew, people who I didn’t -and all eager to celebrate Easter. The liturgy and the music were wonderful but even they, as powerful as they were, were carried by the energy that all these people brought into the place.

We always conclude that service by giving bags of Easter eggs out, principally to all the children there but also to all those who’ve contributed in some way to Holy Week. The Friends of the Cathedral had prepared 300 bags – and they all went. So many children, including the boy and girl choristers, so many volunteers – servers, Stewards, the flower arrangers, the Hospitality Team – and some paid members of staff, musicians, vergers, all making the Cathedral what it is.

Afterwards I was loitering at the west end as clergy do, saying goodbye and a happy Easter to people. A woman came up to me. ‘I told everyone I was leaving the Church of England for another denomination. I announced it. But I came here today and I’m staying, I’m not going.’ She went on to talk about the inclusive nature of the place, of the sense of joy, of the energy that she had experienced as she worshipped with us. It felt like those moments that clergy and other preachers are familiar with when one person comes up to you after a service and says ‘Your sermon spoke to me today – it was exactly what I needed to hear’ – and no one else makes a comment. That happens more often than you would perhaps imagine. It’s as though, sometimes, what we do is for one person, for one individual – and that’s fine and that’s how it should be – as though the whole community is ministering to, holding one person who needs to be held, then, at that moment.

It reminded me of the deeply personal approach that Jesus takes with Mary Magdalene. She was so locked into her grief, she was so distraught that only her name, spoken by the Lord, could bring her out of it and awaken her to joy.

‘Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).’ (John 20.16)

It was as though, at that moment, Easter happened for her and she was rescued by the Risen Christ and set on the apostolic path to help bring others to the faith that now filled her renewed and reborn heart.

Mary Magdalene in the garden of despair

Mary Magdalene in the garden of despair

That rising sun was so powerful for me that just for a moment it was my Easter, as this has been my Holy Week. But of course it is our Easter, it has been our Holy Week in which each of us, in our rich diversity, is ministered to as beloved sons and daughters, brothers and sisters by the one who was born and who rose ‘for us and for our salvation’.

It has been a wonderful Holy Week, brim full of blessing. Thank you for sharing it with me.

Alleluia. Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

There is no other song, there is no other prayer worthy of this day.

My Holy Week – Holy Saturday

I get so frustrated when people call this Easter Saturday.  That’s a week away.  This is Holy Saturday! Get it right!

In an ideal world, of course, it should be a day for peace and contemplation, for considering the harrowing of hell, coming to terms with the fact that Jesus died and was buried and that his friends had to leave the tomb with the job half done because the Sabbath was fast approaching. It should be the day for reflecting on how the eleven felt. They had been thirteen and within the space of a day two of their number had gone – Jesus, nailed to the tree, Judas hanging from a tree, one at the hands of others, one at his own hands.  On Thursday night they were all together in this room and now there were two empty places around the table.  I should have been thinking about all those things and they are rich themes to reflect on.

Spring-Cleaning

Most clergy and most people intimately involved in the business of church don’t have that luxury. Holy Saturday is often church spring clean day.  Everything was stripped out at the end of the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday.  Anything decorative and removable was put in the sacristy or the hall.  Before it can be put back it has to be cleaned, polished, repaired.  The church, if it normally smells of incense, suddenly smells of polish and Brasso and Silvo.  Mots of dust can be seen in the shafts of light coming through the windows.  Hassocks are beaten, carpets hoovered, the seldom cleaned places exposed by the stripping on Thursday need to be dealt with.  At the same time ‘the flower ladies’ (but they may be men) are in and they want their space.  They need to soak their Oasis, they need more space than the Vicar ever gives them to arrange all the lilies donated by people in memory of loved ones who died last year. The Sunday School are in setting up the Easter Garden – but they soon get bored and run around the churchyard and get under people’s feet and the Easter garden is left again to the head of Sunday School – setting out the Primulas around some rocks and hoping it looks a bit like the sepulchre.

It’s a full-on Saturday, yet even though it’s busy it has its own holiness.  The harrowing of hell is mirrored in the harrowing of the vestry, and the victory over sin becomes a more prosaic victory over the dust ‘that clings so closely’.

Of course, as a Dean, I have an army of people to do all of that and I’m very grateful to them.  But don’t worry, I have been doing my own preparations.  Part of that was writing two sermons for tomorrow – one for the Dawn Vigil and one for the 9 o’clock. The truth is that I find it much easier to write a Good Friday sermon than one for Easter Day.  As someone said to me ‘Being at the College of  the Resurrection, it should be easy for you.’ But it isn’t.  I always worry about what to say at Easter and I hope I have it right.  But I also wonder why I find it such a challenge – maybe it’s because I feel that I experience in my life more of Good Friday than I do of Easter Day – or is it too honest to say that?

Then I too got hooked by spring cleaning.  For some reason I decided to tackle the Utility Room which is in the cellar of the Deanery.  It had become a bit of a dumping ground.  So on with the Marigolds (goodness there’s a lot of product placement in this blog!) and out with the Flash and into rubbish bags went all the junk.  I sorted out all the cleaning products – why I have I bought so many window cleaning sprays? why have I more bottles of Parozone than anyone could need? – and was able to stand back and see a job, reasonably well done. It was very fulfilling and maybe that’s why this is Holy Saturday because we make ready in such practical ways for Easter. The Old English poem, ‘The Descent into Hell’ concludes like this

The young warrior awoke,
dauntless from the dust, majesty arose,
victorious and wise.

Perhaps defeating the dust is where the holiness lies.

Chaldon

Part of the depiction of hell from Chaldon church

 

Now though, jobs done, sermon written, Easter wreath on the door, Easter tree decorated with wooden eggs in the hall, I can at last sit down and think about an early night.  The clocks go forward and the Dawn Vigil it at 6.00am! But actually I’m now feeling a tinge of excitement!

Jesus, meet us in the dawn
as you met Mary
and fill us with that same
Easter joy
that changed her life.
Amen.

My Holy Week – Good Friday

There’s such a sense of momentum from the second half of Maundy Thursday until now on Good Friday. It is as though events overtake you and you’re caught up in the breathlessness of it all. And that must be good, and that must be how it must be, because that is how it must have been for Jesus and his disciples. Events took them over as they were taken over, as evil had its day, as political power buckled under the demands of the crowd, as one man bore the weight of everything.

Yesterday evening, the ‘Evening Celebration of the Lord’s Supper’, was amazing. I’ve presided at that service so many times but this year it seemed to affect me differently. It was something to do with the feet to be perfectly honest. Twelve members of the congregation had offered to have their feet washed (or at least a foot) and they were seated down the nave. Canon Mark Oakley, our Holy Week preacher, had already challenged us to think what the church would have been like if the command to wash one another’s feet, which Jesus gave to his disciples, had replaced as foremost and paramount the command to eat bread and drink wine ‘in remembrance of me’.

‘If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.’ (John 13.14)

What, he asked, if we were a community of foot washers rather than bread breakers. The bowl rather than the altar would then have been at the heart of our liturgy and our life. It was a fascinating idea. It is an evening of commands – to love, to wash, to eat, to drink. And we perhaps couldn’t follow them all and so we chose the meal, we chose to follow the command to eat and drink, and forgot the command to wash, until this night.

bigstock-Jesus-washing-feet-of-modern-m-53037862

One of the things that the priest becomes very familiar with is seeing the row of hands held out waiting, wanting communion, the bread of life. Those hands have been part of the Lent art installation ‘Earthworks’ and have reminded me of those hands. But we have also had a series of feet in the Cathedral, at the High Altar. And so seeing these twelve feet before me, waiting to be washed I found very moving. And it’s physically demanding. Up and down, up and down, juggling the bowl and towel and the water – pouring, holding, drying the feet. It’s intimate, personal, nothing quite like it. You look at the feet, not at the face. Young feet, black feet, gnarled feet, feet that have taken long journeys, feet that have been well looked after. We know hands well, we hold them, touch them – but feet are so different. Yet, like hands they tell their story – and it’s a story of pilgrimage, of the journey people are on.

'Earthworks' feet

‘Earthworks’ feet

That journey continued today because some of those same feet were on the Walk of Witness that I took part in from Blackfriars to Waterloo. On the way we gathered people and at the Pop-Up Church in the station people stopped hurrying for trains as we sang ‘Amazing Grace’. It was amazing and there was grace abounding. Then back in the Cathedral we took that journey with Jesus to the cross.

The Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday is for me perhaps the most powerful service of the Christian year. It has its own pace, the slow walk to the cross, the walk of the mournful, the solemn walk that brings you to Calvary. Within all the solemnity though its the veneration of the cross which is amazing. The line of people down the nave, each wanting their moment at the cross, making that journey to be near the cross on this day, is staggeringly humbling.

In the station I was asked to give an interview. ‘Why have you been doing this; why is Good Friday important?’ I spoke about the way in which so many people don’t know what’s going on when they see the procession coming down the street, and maybe, maybe we just remind them of the day, like on Palm Sunday. And why do it? Because whilst some may think that this was something that happened then, we know that it happens now. Christianity, Jesus, God, is always in the now, in the present moment and setting the cross at the heart of the busyness of Waterloo Station as people hurry past, their feet bearing them on their journey and setting the cross in the heart of the Cathedral where the pilgrim journey always continues is a reminder that the foot of the cross is planted in the now of the world.

Holy feet, holy journeys, the sacred feet of Jesus nailed to the cross, the foot of that cross driven into the earth, feet to be washed, feet to be cherished, journeys to be made.

Lord,
may every step I take
be on the path
that you tread before me.
Amen.

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