It seems perhaps a little strange that only the first few minutes of our service today has been focussed on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and so much of it focussed instead on the events of the following week. This is a mandatory requirement – for all of us who are obedient to the Lectionary. My best guess is that this is because the Lectionary writers knew, instinctively, that the majority of worshippers across the land will not – or perhaps cannot - come to many Holy Week services. As a result, for many, the history-changing events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are entirely missed. Many worshippers will hop from the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, straight to the fantastic news of the Resurrection (which we will, of course, celebrate on Easter Day).
This is, of course, regrettable. For without the cross, the agony in the garden, the betrayals around the first Lord’s Supper, there is a danger that our faith can appear to be founded on celebration after celebration. We miss the struggle which is really at the heart of what we believe.
To jump from ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ straight onto ‘Alleluiah Christ is Risen’ is to live always on the mountain top. But as I said a few weeks ago when we contemplated the Mount of Transfiguration – the thing about mountain-top experiences is that you have to come down.
The Easter story, in its entirety, is ultimately about how God transforms our apparent defeats into victories. Or, if you prefer a less militaristic metaphor, it’s about how God can transform our suffering into healing, or our pain into growth, our hells into heavens, and the mini-deaths we all experience into new life.
Now that’s all very well, as theology goes. But what does it mean in real, everyday life? For an answer to that question, we need to look at people like Gordon Wilson, the Northern Irish draper and peace campaigner who was injured in the Enneskillen bomb – while his daughter was killed.
In an interview with the BBC, Wilson described with anguish his last conversation with his daughter and his feelings toward her killers: "She held my hand tightly, and gripped me as hard as she could. She said, 'Daddy, I love you very much.' Those were her exact words to me, and those were the last words I ever heard her say."
To the astonishment of listeners, Wilson went on to add, "But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. She was a great wee lassie. She loved her profession. She was a pet. She's dead. She's in heaven and we shall meet again. I will pray for these men tonight and every night." As historian Jonathan Bardon recounts, "No words in more than twenty-five years of violence in Northern Ireland had such a powerful, emotional impact."
Gordon Wilson went on to form a Trust which paid for young people from both sides of the Northern Irish troubles to encounter peace. He exemplified the reality of a Christian life, in which tragedy is turned into triumph.
We can experience tragedy being turned into triumph in our own lives as well. All of you will know of the sadness that Sandra Haggan has been experiencing of late, as her family business of 96 years has come to an end. But, out of that sadness, joy has come – with the news that her new-found availability means that she has accepted the role of Pastoral Worker here at St Faiths. I know that you will all join me in welcoming this news!
But what of other sadnesses and tragedies? What even of the tremendous losses we have experienced of late within our own congregation? Judy, Tricia, John Edwards – as well as more personal, family losses. It is too soon, perhaps, to speak of triumph after such losses. And yet, I hold within me a deep and sure conviction that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, ‘all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things will be well’. With all its ugliness and pain, the entire message of Holy Week is that God is constantly at work, even among the worst of times, to bring hope and healing.
So finally, my encouragement to you this week is not to miss the opportunities of Holy Week. Join us on Tuesday evening, as we walk the Way of the Cross, going from station to station around the church, contemplating each significant moment on the Way of Tears.
Join us on Maundy Thursday evening, at 7pm, when we will re-enact the painful institution of the first Lord’s Supper, and the washing of feet, followed by an opportunity to watch with the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Walk with us, if you can, on a pilgrimage from church to church on Good Friday morning. Or, if such a walk is beyond you, at least join us for an hour of worship at the Cross at 2pm on Friday.
For a chance to think about all we experience together, why not make a date to join the FaithTalk discussion on Saturday morning, when we will focus on the many historical meanings behind the Cross.
Do all of this, or at least some of this with us over the coming days, and I promise you that the joy of Easter morning will be that much greater, and that much more profound.