It seems little strange that only the first few minutes of our service today has been focused on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and so much of it focused 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 the Last Supper, Gethsemane and Good Friday are entirely missed. Many worshippers will hop from the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, straight to the fantastic news of the Resurrection (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. To bounce from ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ straight onto ‘Alleluia, Christ is Risen’ is to live always on the mountain top, never to descend to the reality of the valley below.
On the front of this week’s Chronicle, I wrote the words, ‘We are Easter people, and alleluia is our cry’. Which is wonderful stuff – but it’s not the whole story. Sometimes, with Christ at the tomb of Lazarus, we need to lament as well. Sometimes, like in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, we may even need to cry with Christ on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!’
The Holy Week 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 new growth, and the deaths we all experience into new life.
This is what God does, and what we, the church do in his name. Let’s pick some simple examples:
· It’s a tragedy that we’ve lost some of our much-loved friends and family, in this last year – to COVID and other natural causes. But the donations which many of you have made in their name will help us provide new pews that will serve the needs of generations of worshippers in this place.
· It’s a tragedy that we’ve been forced to worship apart from one another during this last year. But, on the other hand, our worshipping congregation has actually grown – and we now joyfully welcome, via the Internet, worshippers who were too frail to get to church before, or who live a long way away – like in Wales, Cyprus, Ghana – and other places all around the world.
· It’s a tragedy that we have been locked inside our homes for so much of the last year. But, on the other hand, the Corona Chronicle came into being – and many of us feel that we now know other members of our church family - in ways we could never have dreamed before. And, we’ve published a book containing biographies, memories, histories and humour that will be a lasting testament to this generation of the people of St Faith’s.
These are just three of the more public examples of how God, living among us, has inspired us to turn tragedy into triumph during the pandemic. There are many more – but I’ve promised a short sermon!
So finally, my encouragement to you this week is not to miss the opportunities of Holy Week. Join us, online, on Monday evening, as we worship in the gentle, meditative style of Taizé. Join us, online 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, online on Wednesday, for a special Holy Week presentation by Graham.
Join us, online, on Maundy Thursday evening, when we will re-enact the painful institution of the first Lord’s Supper, and the washing of feet. I shan’t be washing any actual feet this year, but I will be contemplating the deep, profound meaning of the meal that Jesus inaugurated on that night.
Then join us, either online or actually in person for an hour of worship at the Cross at 2pm on Friday.
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.