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.

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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.

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My Holy Week – Palm Sunday

In previous year’s I’ve written specific blogs that people have been able to follow during Holy Week.  This year I thought I’d do something a little different.  I hope you don’t object to me calling it ‘My Holy Week’. It’s as much yours as mine, ours in fact.  But what I want to do – and this may prove to be interesting or not – we have yet to find out – is to simply record what Holy Week has meant for me this year, what has got me thinking, reacting, reflecting.

People often say to me, as they did last week, ‘It’s your busy week coming up!’ In one sense, of course, they’re right – it is a busy week.  But not in the same way as other weeks are busy.  Lacking in self discipline and diary management skills some of my weeks are almost undoable – but I manage to scrape through. But Holy Week is different in that the normal round of meetings is absent and instead I’m able to worship and lead worship and hear confessions and do things that are priestly in a way sometimes that, speakinging frankly, some decanal tasks aren’t.

The other thing that makes a huge difference is that I can listen to someone else preaching and not have to worry as much about preaching myself.  It’s not that I won’t be preaching – I am tomorrow lunchtime and twice on Easter Day.  But the Holy Week preacher – this year Canon Mark Oakley from St Paul’s – does the bulk of the preaching.  It’s great.  I can be fed alongside the rest of my colleagues and the congregation.

Having recently returned from co-leading the Diocesan Pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the Bishop of Southwark, I was eager to begin Holy Week so that the fresh memories of Jerusalem could be brought to life again in the liturgy. It’s only a few weeks since we began on the first proper day of pilgrimage as most pilgrim groups do, standing at the top of the Mount of Olives and looking across at the view of the Temple Mount and the beautiful Dome of the Rock and being reminded that the rather precipitously steep road down is the route that Jesus would have taken. On this occasion it was pouring with rain and I mean pouring. As we left Dominus Flevit the road outside had become a river and we struggled to hang on to each other as we made our way down to the Garden of Gethsemane.

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The Mount of Olives

 

I woke this morning to a gentle shower of rain and that question that’s in the head of many priests on Palm Sunday morning ‘Will we get away with it this year?’ The IT is the outdoor procession and last year we didn’t – it was really raining and we had to make the difficult decision not to go out.  That was such a disappointment – the procession is so integral to the liturgy and doing a ‘figure of eight’ round the Cathedral just isn’t the same.

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The congregation arrives

 

Fortunately the weather wasn’t too bad as the time for the procession approached and we headed off to the Borough Market.  That’s where the first part of the liturgy is held.  In what is normally a packed space with market stalls and shoppers we pack with worshippers and it’s a great beginning.  Then out onto the Borough High Street and shocking the people wandering about there or passing by on one of the many buses.  You can see bafflement in people’s faces – ‘What are they doing?’ – for some it clicks and they remember, others remain baffled.  A builder working on the High Street stopped what he was doing and stood back and a Steward went and gave him a Palm Cross.  He really beamed with the most tremendous smile and proudly held it up to show his mates in the shop behind him. Some others joined us, caught up in the fun, just as must have happened on that first Palm Sunday.

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Entering the Cathedral

 

There is something good about Palm Sunday, it’s sameness.  It takes me back to my days as a chorister, out on the streets then, singing the same hymns – ‘All glory, laud and honour’ and ‘Ride on, ride on’ – the same style of palm cross, the same sense of anticipation and there is something so connecting about this.  Not messing about with Palm Sunday is as it should be.  Egeria on her pilgrimage experienced it like this in the 4th century and we connect with that experience and every large or small procession, with or without donkey.

Yet, even though its the same as ever, its always a fresh expression of church.  The procession is made up by a new congregation, with new Christians and, being in the northern hemisphere, there is a spring-like freshness to it all.  I love it and I loved it today.

In the first of his sermons in the afternoon Canon Mark Oakley spoke of something which I had never thought of before.  He said that we had to remember that in fact two processions occurred that first Palm Sunday.  One came from the north, a peasant procession which in many ways had begun in Galilee.  The other came from the east, from Caesarea Maritima, the Roman headquarters.  This was an imperial procession bringing Pontius Pilate to bolster his troops in what could be a difficult and fractious week in Jerusalem, Passover week, when the memory of shaking off oppressive rulers and finding freedom made the people restless in their present, dominated situation.  Two very different processions – one with imperial stallions, one with a donkey; one with gleaming standards one with palm fronds; one with the glint of armour worn, one with coats spread on the road.  Both were triumphal entries but from very different worlds and these worlds, these images of the kingdom, were to collide and would collide around Jesus.

It has given me a lot to think about as I begin this week and the day is not over yet.

Lord,
your humility challenges
our need for power,
your majesty challenges
our attempts at glory.
As worlds collide
hold us together
with wounded, majestic hands.
Amen.

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