St Andrew Holborn Lent Book 2017 “Through their eyes”
Introduction This booklet is designed to help you enter into the season of Lent. There is a popular perception that Lent is a time of misery, and whilst it may be a season for penitence and selfdenial, it is also a time for spiritual growth and renewal. Each year the community at St Andrew’s Holborn produces a Lent booklet of daily reflections to help us focus our thoughts and devotions around a theme that will deepen our encounter with this Holy season. This year we will be thinking about how different people in the account of Christ’s Passion in the Gospel of Matthew saw the events. We will consider their motives and actions and think about what they can say to us in our day and age. The reflections comprise a variety of styles and approaches to each subject. The aim is to assist the reader in their spiritual journey, so if a particular reflection does not inspire you or connect with your experience don’t fret over the fact, simply move on and let the words lie. It may be that on another occasion they will speak to you. We have also illustrated the book with various images, and we hope that these in themselves will give readers inspiration and opportunity for thought. Our journey then this season is one of challenge and transformation. As we reflect on all the issues raised we may find ourselves challenged in our thinking and acting, and strengthened in our daily lives. We can feel daunted by the task of sharing God’s love in the world sometimes, but this book may help to give us hope in that task, or indeed spur us on to a keener way of living. May this company of voices prove a rich resource throughout the coming weeks. As we absorb the various messages may our lives be strengthened and may we find a deeper joy in our community by the grace of God.
Preface The passages selected for reflection this Lent are action-packed. The pressure is on. No one is waiting to be called. They’re on the journey and are finally waking up to what it really means. The stakes are escalating, and the players have become reckless, even ruthless in their actions and reactions. Impatience permeates the atmosphere; voices and arms are raised against friends and neighbours. When they arrive at the gates of the city and enter Jerusalem, they encounter a faith community whose priests and leaders have chosen secular compliance and complicity in the hopes of maintaining their rituals, routines and status. As long as they keep the peace in the military sense, surely, they will be able to enjoy the peace the Lord promised to his people when Moses led them out of Egypt. The Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Numbers 6, 24-6 The divisions among Jews in the Holy City exacerbate the doubts and divisions that are emerging among the followers of the new way. The Prince of Peace who was able to still the storm (Matthew 8, 23-7) seems unable to turn the tide. Some question their teacher; others rise to their healer’s defence. Some hold firm and continue to practice the behaviour Jesus has modelled for them; others take advantage of the uncertainty to cut their own deals. They are approaching the end time, and the man on whom they’d placed their bets is looking less and less like the Messiah they had in mind. The man riding on a donkey is about as far away from the ‘the Son of Man… in his glory, and all his angels with him” sat ‘on the throne of his glory’ as you can get. As people weigh the promise of inheriting the kingdom against the reality of life under military occupation, they lose hope of every being released from the weight of that Roman burden of taxes and curfews, intolerance and suspicion. This socio-political context exerts an extraordinary – for some an untenable – pressure on the human protagonists. As we take the journey with them, notice how each of the players chooses to interpret the action. Notice which followers bear witness at the cross and which become messengers. What do they invite us to notice in our own chaotic and uncertain times? How will we bear witness to what we see and hear? Who among our neighbours is already a messenger of God’s love for all creation?
Ash Wednesday The Temptation in the Wilderness. Matthew 4.1. Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
As we begin our Lenten journey, we are drawn into the desert like Christ. We are reminded of our frailty – from dust we came; to dust we will return. But in between there is much to do that is honed in the wilderness, ready to flourish when the rains come or when we look up and see Christ standing in front of us beckoning us to His stream of living water. Where is our wilderness? The frantic busyness of working life. Or the demands of home and family, friends and neighbours. Dashing from meeting to meeting. Fending off phone calls. Sifting through endless emails. Giving hospitality. Caring for other’s needs. Are these our modern day equivalent of the temptations that the devil confronted Christ with? All the activity we are drawn into is a distraction from seeking solitude with God. How often do we allow ourselves the luxury of drinking from the stream of living water in the desert of our everyday life? The devil is in the detail of our diaries, disrupting our relationship with our Saviour. It’s interesting… when I first pondered this text I immediately thought of times when I have taken myself on a retreat and disconnected from the world. Yet it is in those ‘wilderness’ times that I grow and refresh my faith. In writing this I realise that my wilderness is my daily life and I am reminded that I need to walk with Christ through each day. Where is your wilderness?
Thursday 2nd March Bread. Matthew 4. 3-4. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’ “I know I have a calling, I felt the need to get away, to have time to think, time to make decisions. What I decide today will set my path before me. I heard the voice, when John baptised me, I felt as if I was overwhelmed by a Divine Presence, but was does it mean? Can I do anything? Do I have power? I am hungry, can I change these stones into bread, warm and fresh from the oven? Not just for me, but for others too. Why not? That would get people’s attention, I could feed the poor and destitute, those who have nothing. People would have full bellies and then I could tell them about God and HIs provision for them. Like the manna from heaven in Moses’ time. They would come from all over to hear me speak! Or would they? Would they just be after a free meal? Would that not be too easy? And after one meal they would be back for more? A loaf of bread only satisfies for one moment. What is more satisfying? More long-lasting? Life giving? Life affirming? REAL? It is not bread that people need but knowledge about God, they need to hear Him speak to them for themselves.”
Friday 3rd March Testing God. Matthew 4. 5-7. Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’ Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ We might be tempted to think that this episode is about how we should not try to force God’s hand to get a result that we want. We might think that Jesus is saying “Do not say to God I am going to do this but if you are God save me”. It goes fundamentally deeper than that. The point is that we do not have to put God to the test in the first place – if we do we have failed to understand how God loves us. We don’t have to put God to the test for we have in God’s love all the care and understanding and love that we could ever need. The problem is that so often we cannot see any of this – we are blind. Blind in our own confusion or sorrow perhaps, but nevertheless unable to grasp the reality that sustains us. Jesus tells us to “trust” not “test”. We do not need to force God’s hand to give us what we want because within God’s love we are held and, in fact, have all that we need. God will breathe upon us the assurance that we are loved without our demanding proof of it. If we feel the need to “test” God it may be because we are looking at things in the wrong way – our minds and hearts need healing of their pain and need filling with wisdom. The very things that Christ offers to us every moment of every day.
Saturday 4th March Matthew 4: 8 – 10. Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me”. Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’ ’’ At first it sounds so easy, clearly none of us would worship Satan: the idea is frankly preposterous. But if we slightly turn things around and think of some of the bargaining we attempt to carry out with God then we are not on such firm ground: we are all in danger, at times, of considering God as some kind of divine Father Christmas. Surely, we tell ourselves, God will grant us our prayers and petitions for good health and happiness; family stability and progression in our careers… And then when some or all of these things don’t turn out quite as we expected our reaction is often to rail against God, to look for the answers in other places. Gradually our worship of God is displaced as our trust and focus becomes located….. somewhere else. This is one of the key lessons that Job learnt. The Book of Job is about the problem of suffering, but it also addresses other fundamental issues about faith. Towards the end of the narrative God finally speaks and challenges Job to consider the Divine power and wisdom. Can Job, God demands, create a world out of nothing; determine the weather; control mighty creatures? Of course, the answer is no and one of Job’s most crucial utterances “For I know that my Redeemer liveth” is an absolutely key recognition of the fact that God alone is able to redeem and free us and that we need to worship him for who He is and not what He can give us. It often appears easier to seek things we desire elsewhere to “fall down and worship Satan”, but this is an illusion. However tough things may be at times it is the living God, our Redeemer, who alone has the power to provide everything we actually require and ultimately to give us all things.
Sunday 5th March What’s your temptation? Matthew 4. 1-11
The Gospel of Matthew is marked by struggle and conflict: and nothing emphasises this more than ‘temptation’ – the ebb and flow of what we want to do and what we know is right to do. Whilst the Gospels of Mark and Luke also detail the temptation of Christ, it is Matthew whose Gospel is characterised by this idea. Denial. Refusal. Rejection. Three words which whilst outwardly negative, actually for many define this six weeks to Easter. Yet Lent should not just be about ‘giving up’, but also about how we define ourselves as Christians and what we give. Whilst fasting for forty days and forty nights in the Judean Desert, Satan appeared to Jesus and tried to tempt him: but let us think through what this means to us as Christians today. Traditional temptations of hedonism, egoism and materialism, all have multiple meanings: satisfaction, strength and abundance: all of which can contribute to society through our lives as Christians. As well as marking the First Sunday in Lent, today is the Feast day of St.Kieran, one of the ‘Twelve Apostles of Ireland’. He was a Bishop, and lived for a time as a hermit, and it is said his first disciples were the animals of the wood in which he lived. He later founded a monastery, ministering to human disciples. Viewing temptation as a positive strengthening of Christian commitment, should define our next six weeks.
Monday 6th March Matthew 26. 2. “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” And so it begins. With a brutal starkness we are jolted in to the Passion narrative. Our focus shifts from looking back to the triumph of Palm Sunday and forward to the betrayal which is to come. The story is so familiar to us that it can be hard to imagine how it felt to those living through it in real time. We have the confident luxury of knowing the end. The disciples didn’t. How did they react to these words? Puzzled, defiant, afraid, in denial? Perhaps even a strange sense of release that something is happening at last… ‘You know’. But knowing is not understanding. The disciples do not – cannot – fully understand. They may know the factual chronology of what and when, but not the how or why. Their choices will shape the story in ways which, perhaps fortunately, they cannot yet comprehend. And so it is for us. Our stories play out in fixed time and space. We stumble through our muddled choices, facing our own Passions and Epiphanies. Yet, we are always held within the knowledge of the Resurrection, breaking through earthly boundaries to give a resolution to the narrative which is beyond our hope and imagination.
But we are not there yet. Passover is coming in two days and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified. We are aware, perhaps, of something happening beyond our linear grasp of time. We do the only thing we can. We go on.
Tuesday 7th March Simon the Leper. Matthew 26.6. Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper. Have you ever kept something at home that you were saving for a special occasion? It could be food, drink, tableware, anything at all. Have you ever held off using it so long, that in the end, it never got used at all? Maybe you’re the opposite, it’s less likely, and you shun objects of any great value. Either way, there’s an extent to which we anchor our ideas of the worthiness of people to the worth of objects.
Simon sees this unfolding in his own house. The woman anoints Jesus with expensive oils as those around her become outraged at what they see as waste. It’s very easy, of course, to spend other people’s money, or to go along with supporting their spending/saving plans, as long as our own money isn’t on the line. As easy it is to plan out what we might do with any given thing, it actually takes some courage to do that if we find ourselves in a position to do so: to put our money where our mouth is, as it were. When we attach so much worth and importance to things (the point being that they are worth something to us), we can blind ourselves to seeing things of genuine worth, especially when those things are hidden in plain sight, as Jesus was, right there in Simon’s house, with everyone around him. If we worry too much about making sure the “right moment” comes, we’ll prevent it from ever coming.
Wednesday 8th March The woman with the Ointment. Matthew 26.7. A woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. This is a marmite image! And the reaction of the disciples confirms that nothing has changed. For some this act of sheer adoration is so powerful that it’s easy to imagine that you are the woman. For others it is a shocking waste. Her act is one of utter abandonment. It’s a physical demonstration that speaks potently of her emotional response. She is pouring out her love for Christ – quite literally. How often do we feel like that? How frequently does our love for God feel so overwhelming that we relinquish all our reserves, natural and/or inculcated and allow ourselves to simply adore our Saviour? Or are you with the protesting disciples? Embarrassed and offended by such an extravagant act. They had a valid point – given what it cost - much could have been achieved to benefit the needy. But this isn’t about our response to the world and the very real needs of some of many poor who surround us. This is about our own personal response to God. How often do we truly recognise the abundance of His gifts to us? How often have we heard that He wants to fill the vessel of our lives to overflowing? How often have we said – unknowingly – that’s quite enough thank you… I have sufficient. So, today I invite you to allow yourself to be open to God’s lavish provision and respond in kind.
Thursday 9th March “Why this waste?” Matthew 26. 8. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, ‘Why this waste?’ This passage stirs up an odd network of associations. Two of which I’d like to explore here. The first is a blunt response from Lord Darlington, a character in Oscar Wilde’s play, ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’. When he was asked to define a cynic he gave this answer: ‘A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.’ The other comes from personal experience of the close ties between fear and anger. More often than not unrecognised fear makes itself manifest through rejection of what is most needed – generosity and love. 12
By this time, in their relatively short journey, the disciples had witnessed and experienced more than a lifetime of miracles and wonders. The emotional and cultural distance they’ve travelled from their familiar occupations and daily routines is far greater than the geographical distance travelled from their hometowns. When we read the Gospels the steps along their journey flow so readily one to the other that we neglect the realities of their journeys. The upheaval and confusion would have taken their toll. If they’d followed the invitation, they would have brought nothing with them and would have had to rely on strangers to welcome them, give them food and shelter, mend their sandals and wash their clothing.
If I place myself in their tired feet and hungry bellies, I too am tempted to interpret what I’m seeing as pouring money down the drain. Then I hear the words, “O ye of little faith”, and find myself returning to Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic. As I reflect on the play and on this passage, I am drawn to conclude that the opposite of cynicism is not belief but love. The greatest undisclosed fear revealed in this passage is abandonment. The disciples do believe all that Jesus tells them, and that is why they know – and fear – deep down that they are about to lose what they have come to love above all cost.
Friday 10th March Matthew 26. 11. “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” Jesus acknowledges that the woman who has drenched him in expensive perfumed oil has seen beyond the immediate material needs of the people around him to the true message of the Gospel that He has been preaching. It is not that caring for the poor is a bad thing, but that at this moment in time whilst Jesus the Messiah, the incarnate God, is with them extravagance of this nature is a good thing. God’s love is extravagant. How does that make you feel? God’s love is extravagant. It is extravagant and for everyone. It is also priceless. In today’s society everything seems to have a price and people are judged by their monetary worth. The battle between being a caring society, helping the poor and underprivileged, and putting ourselves first and wanting control over how ‘our’ money is spent is continual and a major part of the political system. There is an atmosphere of getting into our castles and pulling up the drawbridge, an atmosphere of fear in the world today. Fear can only be challenged by Love. Jesus is the ultimate example of how God’s Love is to be experienced in this world. It is not easy, it can be dangerous, and ultimately it can be fatal as is shown by the world’s reaction to Jesus and His death on the cross. It can be a fearful thing to open ourselves up to the Love of God, to be accepting of such love for ourselves, to allow ourselves to receive the sort of love that is expressed in Jesus. He accepted the woman’s loving gesture as something that he needed in that moment and that helped him in the days to come. The poor are still in need and still people we can help but maybe we have to receive God’s extravagant love for ourselves first.
Saturday 11th March Matthew 26. 12. “By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial.” The gesture was seen as insanely extravagant. All that money wasted when it might have been used for a good cause. The less said about the woman making the gesture the better. And so the muttering and complaints went on. But Jesus sees it very differently. He sees it as a deeply loving act on the part of someone who has seen beyond the immediate, someone who has scanned the horizon and understands what Jesus is about. The Woman was able to see what the moment asked of her and she responded generously and without thought of limit. In so doing she does something unique for Jesus, something remembered for generations to come. 14
Are we able to see the same way, and to be as extravagantly generous? The Woman did it for Jesus, Jesus asks us to do it for others. We can ask ourselves is there someone for whom I can make an extravagant gesture of love and care? Can I do this disregarding all the normal calculations of life, throwing caution to the winds and pouring myself out the way the Woman did and Jesus ultimately did for all of our healing and salvation? A step that might be regarded as breath-taking insanity may in fact be utterly transformative and resonate for good in ways beyond our limited imagination. Jesus and the Woman show us that love poured out that radically changes the world is costly, but Jesus extravagantly changed our worlds. Are we really unable to follow his ultimate example? Are we unable to follow hers?
Sunday 12th March John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It is worth noting that this verse, one of the most well-known; best loved and most frequently quoted, is said by Jesus to Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a ruler of the Jews; he is a member of the religious elite and therefore has to come to Jesus by night unless he wants to risk destroying his reputation, his status and his power. Yet this same Nicodemus is involved in the burial of Jesus and by handling a dead body, willingly exposes himself to becoming ritually impure just before the most important festival of the Passover. Between his night time encounter with Jesus and the crucifixion something powerful has been at work in Nicodemus’ life: the powerful, transforming force of God’s love.
And of course, the Bible is full of many other such characters who are transformed by God’s love. Seemingly hopeless cases who we would reject and ignore: Jonah the Prophet who runs away and ends up in a whale; the woman taken in adultery; Saul the persecutor of the early Christians; the list goes on and on. And yet, although we are surrounded by ‘such a cloud of witnesses’ who show us over and over again that God loves people unconditionally and totally, starting with where they are, not where they think they should be, we still don’t believe it applies to us. Instead we create prison walls around ourselves because we must make ourselves more worthy; we must improve ourselves before we approach God; we must be good (whatever that means); we must, we must, we must……… And so we commit the error of Adam who hides when he has fallen from a state of grace and hears God’s voice in the Garden in the cool of the evening. The error that is repeated so tragically by Judas who, after his betrayal of Jesus, tries to ‘hide’ by committing suicide seemingly without even considering that he is still loved and can be forgiven by Jesus. We too are so busy hiding; trying to cover up; judging ourselves and the outcomes of our lives prematurely that we miss the still small voice of God telling us over and over again that He loves us. We need to stop. We need to listen. We need to allow God to penetrate the prison walls we have created; to take us by the hand and lead us out into the light of His marvellous love.
Monday 13th March Matthew 26.18. He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him “The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.”
“Go…to a certain man”: It is likely that this “man” is someone whom Christ knew well and also quite likely known by the Disciples as well. In Greek this form of words is used when someone who is known so well that there is no need to specify him by name. The Passover, referenced here is the Last Supper. It is worth observing in detail what Christ did and did not say: for example, He did not say, "I will eat the Passover," but "I keep the Passover." Moreover, he did not say, "The Passover is at hand," but that "My time is at hand”. The disciples may well have been surprised by Jesus wanting to keep the Passover a day before the legal time. The disciples were therefore instructed to give the reason, "My time is at hand." The meaning was, "My death will happen before the legal time arrives”. Saint Thomas Aquinas viewed The Father, Christ and Holy Spirit as teachers and masters who provide lessons. For S.Thomas Aquinas, the Last Supper and the Cross form the most perfect form of teaching, which flows from the wisdom that grace affords. For S.Thomas Aquinas at the Last Supper Christ shows the value of humility and self-sacrifice, rather than some attempt to display existential power. As we draw closer to Easter it is worth evoking what we believe we define as our Christian journey through being humble and altruistic.
Tuesday 14th March The Chief Priests. Matthew 26. 3-4. Then the Chief Priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the High Priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. The Chief Priests have a difficult balancing act. They are trying to ensure the independence and survival of the Temple whilst under the political authority of Rome. They enjoy status, privilege and authority. They have a lot to lose. Jesus represents a threat to this order. This is a violent world. False prophets and messiahs are nothing new. But this one is different. He teaches and heals rather than incite violence. He is more concerned with looking after the alien and the orphan than fidelity to the letter of the law. The priests and elders try their best to catch him out but somehow they always come off second best. Now it is Passover, the most difficult time of year in an already febrile Jerusalem, and Jesus is here, welcomed into the city. Disaster looms. Everything they have could â€“ quite literally â€“ come tumbling down. It cannot be allowed to happen. The actions of the Chief Priests still resonate today. They remind us of the dangerous road we take when we try and maintain the status quo at all costs. Chaos can be threatening but it can also give us a freedom to respond. It can breathe fresh air into our beliefs, structures and ways of living. When the need for discipline and orthodoxy become more important than love and empathy we become stifled. We can hold on so tightly to what we know that instead of keeping us safe we destroy the very things we are trying so hard to preserve.
Wednesday 15th March Mathew 26. 21. And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” When Jesus tells his disciples that one of them will betray him, there seems to be a few ways we can take that. On face value, it reads the same way you might make a prediction about someone based on knowing them well, but that doesn’t diminish the person’s own choice, or their ability to surprise you by doing something unexpected. That isn’t it though. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus uses this tone in making statements which are either prophetic, or a layingbare of real situations. That raises some very difficult, if not impossible, questions. Jesus, who chose his disciples, who called them by name, and who knew he was to die, indicates that he already knows the circumstances by which everything is to unfold. That leads us to one place: how much fault does Judas bear personally? The Gospel narratives certainly have no mercy for him, he is ostracised in their descriptions, painted as greedy, conniving and cowardly. He is, in fact, very much the prototype for Christianity’s historic stereotype of Jewish people. What happens if we see him as playing an essential role in God’s plan? Not so much a pawn, perhaps, but more like Snape killing Dumbledore, and only later is it revealed to have Dumbledore’s own plan all along. Maybe this painting (Conscience, Judas- Nikolai Ge) says more than speculating can proffer. In the upper right corner, Jesus, the light of the world, is carried away, and Judas, clutching not a money bag, but himself, has cast himself into darkness, a figure of utter desolation and loneliness. There is no judgement necessary.
Thursday 16th March Judas Iscariot. Matthew 26. 14-15. Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the Chief Priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. Yet another passage about money. How easily these disciples sidestep the path they have set themselves and step back into the market place. The verbs “betray” and “trade” share the same Latin root, which literally means to “hand over”. Money passes from one hand to another; a human life passes from one embrace to another. This is the first in a series of increasingly high stakes swops, among a community who want to rid themselves of a gift they curse.
© Henry Moore Foundation
A paradox at the heart of this escalating human drama is that the whole chain reaction begins with a divine ‘hand-over’ to ‘buy back’ all that had been squandered, abused and neglected. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life. John 3. 16 Another is that the more we recognise ourselves in these dark actions the greater the scope of our compassion and potential to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Friday 17th March Matthew 26. 24. “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” Christ’s condemnation of His betrayer is unequivocal. His anger is tangible. He knows His fate and lashes out… the very human side of God Incarnate. After all they had shared. The journey they had walked together. The meals eaten side by side. The times when they sank exhausted to the ground after a long day ministering to the crowds that followed them. The miracles – HIS miracles - that had defied human logic. All the late night discussions. The stories He had told; their deep truths barely hidden for all those who heard them to unpack. After all they had shared. How could he? How could one of His closest friends; chosen; called… How could he?
But deeper still, how could He be abandoned like this? Left to face a cruel, isolated death. The sense of destiny and fear was palpable. He could taste his own panic at times. The ultimate humiliation; betrayed by those you trusted. It’s relatively easy to focus all the responsibility for Christ’s betrayal onto Judas isn’t it? Yet we are complicit in that act. Someone had to do it. Someone had been chosen. But how often do we betray the Son of Man? Our little acts of greed and selfishness. Our moments of denial. Each are a betrayal in their own way. Each deny our relationship with Christ. Each hurt Him afresh. Unless we acknowledge that then for us too “it would have been better for that one not to have been born”… It makes His sacrifice and gift of forgiveness all the more precious.
Saturday 18th March Matthew 26. 25. Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.” Betrayal, what leads us to betray the ones we love? We can all too easily think that we would not have behaved like Judas but can you truly say that you have never done something you are ashamed of that hurt someone close to you? Being honest with ourselves about the things that drive us, being prepared to be vulnerable and acknowledge our fears can be a big ask. There are many things in our life experiences that cause us to act against our nature and inclinations spurred on by desires we hardly recognise or understand. Once in the position of being ‘in the wrong’ we are most likely to go on the defensive rather than admit wrongdoing. “Attack is the best form of defence”, so the proverb tells us, and that is when a situation escalates into anger and denial. “It wasn’t me I didn't do I, it's not my fault”. “Surely not I, Rabbi?” was what Judas said. And Jesus’ reply? Can you hear the sorrow in his voice as he says, “You have said so”, Jesus knows what this betrayal will lead to; and yet he does not get angry, does not berate Judas, does not beg him not to go ahead, Jesus just continues to love him. He continues to love us and is there for us if we can just repent and ask for His forgiveness of the things that we get wrong. Are you willing to be vulnerable with Jesus?
Sunday 19th March â€œI thirst!â€? John 4. 5-15. We all have experienced on a hot day the refreshment that a simple, cooling glass of water can bring. For those who have visited the Holy Land one of the delightful aspects are the many juice stands that are placed at pilgrimage sites. After a walk in the heat, up and down steep hills or streets, a cup of pomegranate juice is most welcome. However, these things are drunk and then gone, and if we are particularly thirsty, leave us wanting more. In his encounter with the Samaritan Woman Christ tells us that he is an everlasting source of refreshment, one that never runs out. Water can be used to cleanse and refresh and revive, Christ does all of these things for us, and that is a point to bear in mind â€“ at stages any one of us will need cleansing, refreshing and reviving, we all fall in life and suffer the injuries. Christ brings us Good News, He is here, and heals us. Not just once, but over and over again. Christ, the Living Water brings eternal life, not merely relief for a moment, He profoundly and deeply changes things. He is a Well that never runs dry. Archaeology tells us that wells are fascinating places because people used to chuck all sorts of rubbish down them, rubbish which centuries later can tell us much about past lives. We, however, need to be careful that we have not blocked the power of Christ in our lives with out-of-date rubbish. What needs clearing away so that His water can flow over us again and bring us new life?
Monday 20th March 23
Peter. Matthew 26. 31-35. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go ahead if you to Galilee”. Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you”. And so said all the disciples. People don’t change; leopards don’t change their spots. We love to label, to define to pigeonhole: the good are good, the bad are bad. But such a view is profoundly contradictory to the Christian message. Consider Peter; he is so certain; he is the rock; others may desert, he will not. And yet, before the end of the night he is too scared even to admit to a serving girl that he is a follower of Jesus. A Serving girl who, being female, cannot testify against Peter not even as part of the sham court set up to ‘try’ Jesus. And so Peter changes; he is tried and he fails. Instead of being a rock, his loyalty to Jesus runs away like grains of sand trickling between a child’s fingers. Like Judas, he has become a traitor. Surely no one will ever trust him again, least of all Jesus. So there is a second traitor. First Judas, now Peter: one commits suicide but the other becomes one of the key founders of the Church. One life ends in tragedy: the other fulfils to the utmost the commission he is given as a disciple of Jesus. What causes the difference? Horrified by what he has done, Judas despairs and tries to atone by committing suicide. Peter is devastated but turns to Jesus. He realises that, like us, his only hope of salvation comes from Jesus. On the shores of the Lake of Galilee the resurrected Jesus feeds Peter, affirms his trust in Peter, forgives Peter. Peter is fragile, like us all, he can change and under pressure he can break. But forgiven and empowered by Jesus’ love he is transformed and changed from a traitor to the rock he always had the potential to be.
Tuesday 21st March Matthew 26.38. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.”
All four Gospels tell how, immediately after the Last Supper, Jesus took a walk to pray. Each Gospel offers a slightly different account regarding the narrative. Matthew (and Mark) identify this place as Gethsemane. Jesus was accompanied by the Apostles Peter, James and John whom he asked to stay awake and pray. In Catholic Tradition this is known as the ‘Agony in the Garden’ and is the first Sorrowful Mystery of the Holy Rosary; and also the First Station of the Way of the Cross. Catholic Tradition also includes specific prayers and devotions and these are known as Acts of Reparation, for the sufferings of Jesus during His Agony and Passion at Gethsemane. 25
These Acts are an attempt – some may say duty – on us as Christians to repair the sins against Jesus. Pope Pius XI saw the Acts of Reparation to Jesus as duty for all Christians and referred to them as "some sort of compensation to be rendered for the injury" that Jesus suffered. The tradition of thee Holy Hour of Devotion dates back to 1673 when St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, following a vision of Jesus, was instructed to spend an hour every Thursday night to meditate on the sufferings of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Lent is a time for us to view – or to take stock – of our Christian duties: yes there are the well-known offerings (whether giving or giving up) but also how we remember the sufferings Jesus made for us.
Wednesday 22nd March Matthew 26. 40. Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?” Could you not watch one brief hour?
The garden of Gethsemane was clearly a place of significance for Jesus, he frequently met the disciples there, and on the night of his betrayal, we see him wrestling with some very difficult emotions. Having resigned himself to the daunting path ahead of him, he waits in the garden for the guards to come. It can be bad enough, the nerves when waiting for something as ordinary as a doctor’s appointment, or a job interview, but we can only imagine what was going through Jesus’ mind as he waited that night. Only those who have faced the death penalty themselves will experience anything close. Jesus does not attempt to pass the time by doing anything in particular, he simply asks for the company of his disciples. Later, he seems unconcerned that Peter will betray him, or that Judas already has, but he does seem upset when they disciples cannot keep awake. Simply being is very often enough of a way to help other people facing tough situations; loneliness seems to make most situations considerably worse. God’s love is about giving ourselves to each other fully, and that means that community is inherent in serving each other as God serves us. 26
Thursday 23rd March Matthew 26. 45. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” The words we read earlier in Matthew 26-2 have been fulfilled. Two days have elapsed. Passover is here and the Son of Man is betrayed about to be handed over to his death. And what are the disciples doing? They are asleep. Again. Sleeping and watching provide such powerful metaphors that sometimes we can overlook the meaning of sleep in its purely physical sense. It is a profoundly human activity. It makes us vulnerable. Jesus has already let the disciples sleep on once. He is battling with his own vulnerability and deepest doubts, but still he lets them rest and goes out alone.
Now he returns. He has prayed and received an answer. Judas and the Chief Priests are seconds away. This time the disciples need to wake up. At first glance his words to them are understandably reproachful or even angry. But read them again and you can hear profound tenderness and sorrow. Jesus’ physical journey with the disciples is almost at its end. He will miss them. He knows that they are weak and scared and not ready for what tomorrow will bring. And so they wake quickly, disorientated and with no time to apologise. The hour is at hand and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Everything has happened exactly as it was predicted. And not at all like they expected. The story turns again. The disciples – like us – move on into the unknown.
Friday 24th March Matthew 26. 51-52. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the High Priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Redemptive violence is one of the most insidious, pervasive myths behind so much conventional wisdom and, tragically, so much theology. It has legitimised centuries of bloodshed in the name of God. The sword that Jesus claims to bring in the Gospels is metaphor- here in the Garden of Galilee, we see the difference when it comes to actual swords. Jesus tells Peter to put his sword away, and in that single sentence, he disassociates violence from the Kingdom of God. It is, ultimately, a pacifistic approach. Pacifism, however, doesn’t function very well in real world terms. We don’t even have to think on the large scale of international warfare- would we intervene to stop an old lady being mugged in the street for instance? The utter rejection of violence doesn’t fit into this world, because it is a hallmark of another. If we disparage non-violence as irresponsible or idealistic, that is just misplaced anger at the state of the world as it is. Pacifism is prophetic therefore, because it points us away from this world and towards to Kingdom- it is eschatological. Christ’s passion is not a victory through violence and destruction, it is a victory over it.
Grief, Jack B Yeats, 1951
He shall judge among the nations, and shall decide for many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift sword again nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2, 4 28
Saturday 25th March The Annunciation. Luke 2.35. “The inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
The Annunciation of Our Lady is the Christian celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the Mother of Jesus. In the Holy House of Nazareth there is an inscription which, when translated, reads “the word was made flesh here”. The Annunciation is the prologue to the mysteries of Holy Week: the incarnation happened so that we could be redeemed. This verse follows Simeon’s blessing of the infant Jesus at the Temple courts, where he prophesied – or we could view as preparing Jesus’ parents – for His life: the preceding verse states how Jesus will be spoken against. It says that Mary would live to see Jesus crucified, and of the sorrow she will feel at what will happen to her Son. In forewarning Mary, God prepares her for what will happen to her Son, but also that strength will be found in faith.. There is some disagreement as to what is mean by this sword: is it is sword of “scandal”, where Jesus is subject to lies or is it the sword of pain a mother will feel at the death of a child. Either way, we should remember the pain that Mary felt at the betrayal and eventual death at the Cross of her Son. He died to save us. Marian strength is a guide for all Christians during Lent and beyond.
Sunday 26th March “And now I see.” John 9. “I don’t care what the Pharisees say or even what they do to me; this has quite simply been the best day of my life! I know it will never be topped! It started off as every day of my life has – except I’ve not once seen dawn, or sunset for that matter – but I knew it was morning because my parents woke me. I also knew it was the Sabbath because we went to the Synagogue. But after that nothing was quite like anything I have ever experienced before. There was this teacher, he was talking to his followers about me, well he sounded a bit exasperated with them actually. He was talking about light and dark – though what would I know about light – and work. He told them that night was coming so he must continue to do the work of the one who sent him. It was all a bit above my head. But then I felt someone touch my face and spread something over my eyes. Then He spoke. I knew it was Him. His voice was full of authority. He told me to go and wash my face in the Pool of Siloam. I didn’t even hesitate. I went there slowly, feeling the stones and posts that I knew so well. Then… I could SEE! How? Why? It didn’t matter – I could SEE! I understood light for the first time in my life. Darkness is all consuming and bleak. Light is vibrant and dynamic; I was captivated by all around me. I went back to Him but He’d moved on… I wanted to see His face but instead I just ran into trouble from the Pharisees. Even my parents were too wary to stand by me but I didn’t care, I had seen the truth! Then the miracle happened – He came back to find me! Can you believe it? We spoke and I knelt before him; I think I knew He was the One all along… Some might say He spoke in riddles but I knew what He meant. Physical blindness is one thing but spiritual blindness is the real sin! As I pointed out to the Pharisees a short time before: I WAS blind, and now I see.”
Monday 27th March Matthew 26. 59. Now the Chief Priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death. Fear underlies so many of our actions. Fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of the Other, fear for our personal safety, fear for our family, friends, neighbours. In a place of fear we can be only too quick to listen to and follow up voices that feed our fears and lead us into paths of unrighteousness. Was it fear that caused the chief priests and the Sanhedrin council to want to get rid of Jesus of Nazareth? The Jews are not a passive nation under the occupation by the Romans; rebellion is always fermenting and being put down in a very brutal fashion. Crucifixion is the norm not the exception. The itinerant preacher from Galilee preaches peace and love but attracts thousands of men, women and children and surely there is more than a picnic going on? While he was still in Galilee he was not so much of a problem but coming to Jerusalem at Passover time when rebellious fever was high was too dangerous. The political leaders who also happened to be the religious leaders were in fear, would they be blamed? Would their hard won peacekeeping be challenged? Yet they could not find anything that Jesus said or did that was against the law. Indeed he was claiming to uphold the law of God and challenging the priests and Pharisees that they were the ones that were disobedient to God's law. So they sought to create their own facts to show Jesus guilty of treason. They gave false testimony. In our own times when can we be certain that the information before us in the news and social media is true?
Tuesday 28th March Caiaphas. Matthew 26. 65-66. Then the High Priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?2 They answered, “He deserves death.” So with Caiaphas in the lead, the Chief Priests and the whole council condemn Jesus to death. Their hatred has reached its ultimate destination. The Other, whom they have feared, who has challenged and disturbed them, who has brought trouble and inconvenience to their lives, who has threatened them, they now can kill at the hands of the Romans. It may seem inconceivable how they could take such a view, but part of the answer lies in the fact that they did not see Jesus for who he really is, but saw an image that was the projection of their own fears and hatreds. Caught in such a net they responded accordingly. The only solution to what they saw as their problem was to destroy the cause, and then all would be well. They could regain control. This kind of outlook is all too familiar from the world around us. We might say that we wouldn’t go as far as the Chief Priests and yet when we objectify others and reject them we are doing the self-same thing. We have to remember that our calling is one of service, not one of comfort or convenience. There will be and there are crosses we have to bear, but mysteriously that is part of the journey and woven into our life in Christ. A life that is true and a full one, as we open our arms and accept the people and the tasks God sends to us.
Wednesday 29th March Matthew 27:57. When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. Who is Joseph of Arimathea and why does he get involved? When Jesus is crucified virtually all his disciples desert him. But finally, now Jesus is dead, a disciple emerges and asks Pilate for his body. But this is not the disciple we expect. We assume that it would be one of the twelve but the one who comes is totally different. Joseph of Arimathea is rich and he comes under the cover of darkness. He is further compromised because the other gospel writers tell us that he is a prominent member of the Council, the Sanhedrin, which condemned Jesus to death. So what are we to make of Joseph of Arimathea? What is his motive in asking for Jesus’s body? Is he in fact just an emissary of the Sanhedrin sent to make sure that Jesus is properly buried in a secure tomb so that his real disciples cannot not get hold of his body and ‘make up a resurrection story’. But the Gospel writers prevent us from taking such a cynical view. They tell us that Joseph of Arimathea is a good and upright man; that he had not consented to the Council’s decision; that he is joined with by Nicodemus, another disciple who comes by night, and that between them they anoint Jesus’ body for burial with an incredible seventy five pounds of myrrh and aloes. An extravagantly generous action reminiscent of Mary Magdalene’s anointing of Jesus with the costly nard. Jesus praised Mary Magdalene’s action as ‘beautiful’; it is hard to imagine that he would not be equally approving of the gesture of the two men Which leaves us with a challenge; we are so quick to judge those who are not as open or consistent or steadfast in their display of faith as we believe we are. Yet those we dismiss as half-hearted Christians often, possibly more often than we realise, also respond to God’s prompting. At a crucial point in the Gospel narrative, the twelve are nowhere and two disciples who came by night did what was needful and did it in a beautiful and generous manner.
And still today the Gospel story moves on through the actions of those people who are willing to do what is needful rather than just what is religiously conventional and expected.
Thursday 30th March Matthew 26. 67-68. Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?” This is a nasty, visceral humiliation. These are not the cool-headed, calculated plotters we met earlier, planning Jesus’ death out of self-preservation and necessity. These men are out of control. Sentencing Jesus to death is not enough. They want Jesus mentally and physically broken before he even reaches the Cross. They are not just getting rid of a problem but enjoying doing so. This is payback. All their fear and self-loathing are projected at Jesus. Is there a gnawing doubt that he might be who he says he is? Or is it a preemptive strike to crush any blighted hope that they might believe in someone who turns out after all to be just like all the rest. And yet each strike and spit and taunt is more ineffectual than the last. There is no catharsis. The desire to wound and destroy just feeds upon itself. In punishing Jesus they are maiming themselves. If we are very honest with ourselves perhaps we have all had moments when we have wanted to obliterate God. I once screamed and sobbed at the living room wall. And then hit it. It didn’t work of course. Or at least not at the time and not how I expected. It was much later that I realised it was the first step on the road which eventually led me to St Andrews. We can throw as much as we like at that wall but in the end it will always bounce back to us in generosity and love.
Friday 31st March Nicodemus. John 19. 39. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. Nicodemus only makes a few appearances in the Gospels, but he does represent something interesting: in the Gospel narratives, filled as they are, with characters that represent a certain intensity of purpose, Nicodemus is almost at our level as readers. To put it bluntly, heâ€™s lukewarm; he visits Jesus once at night, he makes a perfunctory intercession at the trial of Jesus and comes to help with the burial, but makes no strong contribution and doesnâ€™t get involved with anything that puts him in any challenging position.
That is not to say his contribution was insignificant in itself; preparing a body for burial is not, and was not then, a particularly pleasant task, especially if you know the person. He is a sort of entry point for the hesitant, who might have been to a Church once or twice out of curiosity; for those that want to help as they are able without really wanting to go the whole mile. Nicodemus is still remembered in the Gospels, and God will indeed see even the smallest act, but we must beware of deluding ourselves that occasional small acts for others, a sort of box-ticking morality, is the extent to which we are called to give of ourselves. Godâ€™s love and generosity, which he invites us to share, is boundless, and persists stubbornly against all barriers. 35
Saturday 1st April Matthew 27. 1. When morning came, all the Chief Priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. We’ve reached the penultimate handover. Yet again we’re drawn into weighing and measuring. What do we gain? What do we lose? Do we have what it takes to go the distance? Shall we cut our losses and set ourselves free of this burden? What’s the cost implication? How many of us sit in meetings as managers – allocating budgets to schedules and outputs – or as governors – stewards of resources placed in our trust – and ignore the people connected to the time and money or neglect the ultimate source?
Stanley Spencer, Christ Delivered to the People
The longer I sit with these passages, the more discomfort I feel. The pressure and the pricking of that crown of thorns. The internal knots and external splinters of the cross. Together they press down on me and hold me still. I hear a voice say, “Stop. Do not move from where you are.” Will I listen? Will I watch and wait and remain awake with all my senses? For now, I allow myself to sit and feel the discomfort.
Sunday 2nd April “Unbind him, and let him go!” John 11. 43-45. “Unbind him and let him go", on the surface Jesus is referring to the bandages that had been wrapped around the body of the dead Lazarus. They do indeed need unwrapping to free Lazarus from the death cloths. However, they are also a symbol of the bindings that restrict us as human beings. Lazarus has been dead for four days and been in the grave for as long. His sisters Martha and Mary are distraught, possibly even more so because they know Jesus could have cured him and restored him to full health if he had only responded more quickly to their messages. So much grief and sorrow did not leave Jesus unmoved, he is recorded as weeping over his friends. But it is more than simple cloths from which Jesus wants to release humans. It is the fear of death and indeed death itself that he is about to challenge. Jesus is challenging death to do its worst and shows that he is Master of death itself. Yes we still have to physically die but He leaves us with a hope that is beyond death. We will still weep when those we know and love die and Jesus weeps with us, but he also leads the way to the new life ahead of us. Is there something in your life that binds you? Is there something from which you need to be freed? Can you put your life in the hands of Jesus and hear him say, “Unbind him and let him go!"
Monday 3rd April Pilate. John 19.9. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. This verse follows one of those sections of the passion story that chills the heart. Pilate tells the mob, “I find no fault in him”. But they are enraged, stirred up by the Chief Priests’ demagoguery. They scream back their unthinking loyalty to their cruel leaders... in the form of the great chorus in Bach’s St John passion: Wir haben ein Gesetz, und nach dem Gesetz soll er sterben; denn er hat sich selbst zu Gottes Sohn gemacht. “We have a law and according to the law he should die; because he made himself the son of God”. Pilate himself was ‘even more afraid’ by the crowd’s behaviour, retreating thence to his headquarters. How terrifying to see how people can find themselves driven to great cruelty – Kreuzige! Kreuzige! Crucify him! Crucify him! – when ill-led. We all know what happens next.
Tuesday 4th April Matthew 27. 11. Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” Pilate was so very nearly there. He knew that Jesus was different, he knew that he was someone special, but he could not and did not take the chance to respond further. We know that Pilate saw he could do nothing in the face of the crowd, and that a riot was beginning so he settled for the expedient course of action, condemning Jesus and washing his hands of the whole affair. The Truth was standing right in front of him but it was too difficult and complicated to acknowledge it and too much of a challenge to act differently. We, like Pilate, can know what to do but fail to act. We, too, can think that avoiding a decision is the easy way out. We, too, can let the opportunity slip through our fingers. We, too, can do anything to have a quiet life. Yet, it isn’t a quiet life, it is a wasted life. It is a life that can never be what it was intended to be, because a false path has been taken, and that fact is always there. Pilate had the chance and let it slip through his fingers, but our case is different, for us there is no single turning point, in the sense that Jesus keeps coming back to us, he stands before us, and offers us again and again the opportunity to choose differently. That is part of his great love for us. He keeps coming back and never stops giving us the opportunity to choose life instead of death.
Wednesday 5th April Pilate’s wife. Matthew 27. 19. While he was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” Why, oh why didn’t he listen to me! It’s not like I make a habit of advising him or telling him what to do. I am pretty good at keeping in the background and playing the dutiful, politically correct wife. In all my days, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that dream. It was so real. So vivid. I woke remembering every single word. It was almost as if it had actually happened. Why didn’t he listen to me? We’ve been here long enough for me to understand what’s going on around here. The small town politics are amateurish in comparison with those I’ve witnessed in Rome. The Chief Priests are so transparent and their machinations all too easy to spot – and he saw through them too… so why? Why did he collude in this pointless execution? Why have the blood of that innocent preacher on his hands? For what? Happy, compliant Chief Priests? Was that a price worth paying? Will it ease the unrest in this land? No! It feels like we’re pawns in a much bigger game. That dream wasn’t just my subconscious worries surfacing. It was a portent! How I wish he had stood up to them and defended the innocent and weak. Who needs defending today? Who are the innocent and weak?
Thursday 6th April John 19:11. Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin” Who actually is guilty of this greater sin? We often assume it is Judas to whom Jesus refers but of course it is actually the Chief Priests who hand over Jesus to Pilate and when Pilate realises that Jesus is a Galilean he sends him to Herod who, being disappointed that Jesus performs no miracles and will answer no questions, sends him back to Pilate. But there is another role being played out in these scenes. It is the crowd of ordinary people who, when Pilate offers to release Jesus in accordance with the Passover custom, cry out for Barabbas. When Pilate then asks what he is to do with Jesus, the answer is unequivocal “Crucify him”. So who is guilty of this greater sin? It would be so much easier if we could just say Judas. A scapegoat. One man censored and blamed and vilified and… dismissed. Just as the Chief Priests told Judas that his guilt at his betrayal of Jesus was his problem and not theirs, we too long to offload our guilt for our own failures and betrayals onto Judas; onto the irritating person in Church; the bad tempered neighbour; the colleague in work who got the promotion that should have been ours; or, even worse, the immigrant who has taken our job; the homeless person who makes our streets unsafe; the refugee who threatens our way of life. The list of those to whom we would love to attribute this greater sin so wrongly and so unfairly is endless. But the Passion narrative brings us up short. Everyone hands Jesus over to Pilate: the respectable religious leaders keen to preserve the status quo; the easily swayed crowd eager to test the power of the governor appointed by Rome; and the individual, Judas, who somehow feels Jesus has not delivered what he promised. So who is guilty of this greater sin? All of us. We have all betrayed Jesus at some point in our lives: when the gap between the way we live our lives and the faith we claim to have causes other people to stumble; when we treat others with disdain and contempt and forget that we are called on to welcome refugees and the displaced, to provide shelter for the homeless and to feed the hungry. And when we mistreat ourselves. But, far more importantly, it is for all of us that Jesus died and all of us can be forgiven.
Friday 7th April Matthew 27. 24. So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Of all the figures in the bible, Pilate is not one with whom we typically sympathise or associate ourselves. With the political turmoil of the present time, however, Pilate has taken fresh relevance. As a political leader, he finds himself caught between the duties and expectations of his office, his own personal convictions, and the demands of a braying mob. The debates over Brexit have raised the same questions about the nature of political authority that faced Pilate in this situation. It is difficult to say how we might react in his place, but faced with the angry crowd, he makes the obvious first move and tries to reason with them. The crowd are only too happy, though, to accept the blood of Jesus on their heads and “on their generations’ heads”, they don’t hesitate for a second over how their children will be affected by their actions; again, the parallels with the present are almost painfully clear, Pilate, faced with no real alternative to the will of the mob, washes his hands to make clear that he absolving himself of any personal responsibility. That is Pilate’s tragedy; he cannot intervene and act as he would, as a leader, so wish. Pilate’s impotence, as it were, is, however, part of God’s plan; salvation will not come from Pilate, it will come from Christ, and can only come from the most lost and broken place. Be careful what you wish for; it may happen.
Saturday 8th April Matthew 27. 26. So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. We have heard a lot in recent months about ‘the will of people’. The people must always be right. But whose will? Each of us are individuals but group us into a crowd, either physically, by liking on Facebook or a cross on a referendum ballot paper and we all become something quite different. Crowds can be good. They can give you a sense of community, solidarity and empowerment. They can also be unstable and dangerous. A crowd is somewhere to hide. It offers you a space to safely unleash those things you would rather not think about when you are alone with the silence in your head. When you are part of ‘them’ it is easier to be unaccountable for your actions and absolve ‘you’ from personal responsibility.
So Barabbas is released ‘for them’. He is a rebel and a murderer but one of their own. A home-grown criminal of a more familiar, quantifiable kind. The Chief Priests, encouraging the crowd to turn against the man they had cheered only days before, must have exploited this. At least you knew where you were with the Romans. The kingdom which Jesus proclaimed had different priorities and awkward implications. Choosing Barabbas is partly about failing to recognise who Jesus is but it is also about recognising, and then choosing to reject. It is safer to keep what you know, to push away what is uncomfortable, to extinguish a light that shines too brightly into dark places. Who or What is the Barabbas in your life?
Palm Sunday 9th April Palm Sunday. “Hosanna!” Matthew 21, 9. The word ‘hosanna’ was originally an appeal for deliverance. The people cry to be delivered from Roman occupation; Jesus is about to be delivered into the hands of the very same soldiers and administrators. Some of the Jews in the crowd are welcoming the ‘Son of David’. How do they feel about seeing the chosen one who ‘comes in the name of the Lord’ riding on a donkey? Donkeys are for peasants and paupers, not for princes. For Mary and others who may have heard the story of how her son came into the world, is there a strange feeling of déjà vu or perhaps even a premonition? Is this procession the beginning of the mockery, the jeering and the parody? Are there people in the crowd who’ve heard the teaching and seize the opportunity to turn the message into a weapon against the messenger and the followers?
The Entry into Jerusalem, Russian, 15th century
Or is this procession the true beginning of the journey? All that has come before has only prepared the way. The people welcome their liberator through the gates of that Holy City so that a sword will pierce their souls, too: Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ Luke 2, 34-5 Hosanna! 44
Monday in Holy Week 10th April Peter. Matthew 26. 75. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. “Dear God… what have I done? NO! It can’t be. Did I really just do that? What was I thinking? I vowed that I wouldn’t… I told HIM I wouldn’t. I’m the scum of the earth; little better than that vile Iscariot. In fact worse, at least he had the guts to be open in his betrayal. I can’t believe what a despicable coward I am! How can I live with myself?
He knows me better than I know myself. He saw how pathetic I am. He told me I would deny him and – as if it could be any worse – that I would repeat it three times! Three times! Not once, but THREE! So I can’t claim it was a mistake or even try and suggest it didn’t happen, there were so many who heard me. It’s bound to get back to the rest. I’m meant to be leading them. Why should they listen to anything I say now! Oh dear God… how will I face Him? Will I get the chance to face Him? Could this get any worse? I want to prove to Him that I can be His rock. How can I regain His confidence in me? What if it’s too late? What if there is no opportunity to speak to Him; to say I’m so sorry. To promise to never do it again. How will I live with myself?” Denying our personal relationship with Christ is not always so obvious… why not take the chance today to say sorry… 45
Tuesday in Holy Week 11th April Judas Iscariot. Matthew 27. 3-5. When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the Chief Priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. Judas repented. We can only speculate what was Judas' agenda but Jesus being condemned to death by crucifixion does not seem to have been part of it. What did he expect when he worked with the Religious leaders of the day in order to bring Jesus under their control? He had spent three years as part of the inner group of this special preacher, teacher and healer. He had been a trusted member, holding the purse for the group, and being responsible for caring for the poor. On seeing that Jesus has been condemned to death, Judas has a change of mind turning away from his own agenda and turning back to the people with whom he had been in collaboration. He acknowledges that he was wrong and wants to change things but it is too late and he is rejected by these leaders who have no more use for him. And this is when he made his biggest mistake, even bigger than betraying Jesus to the priests, because he betrays Jesus once more. He has not understood Jesus at all, Jesus whose purpose was to show God’s love to the world, Jesus who is the living embodiment of the God of the Torah, Jesus who on the cross would cry out “Father, forgive them they know not what they are doing”. Judas repented but he didn’t turn to Jesus; even if he couldn't have forgiven himself, Jesus would have forgiven him. There may be circumstances in our lives when we have betrayed others or when our actions have been a betrayal of our faith. We need to remember that the heart of God is bigger than we can imagine and we can always turn to Him in our darkest moments and find His loving grace.
Wednesday in Holy Week 12th April Simon of Cyrene. Matthew 27. 32. As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. “Why was I there? Of all the stupid things to be caught in the crowd, to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It should never have happened. I hate this city; crowded, a maze of streets and always at boiling point for some stupid reason or other. There I was, pushed to the front of the crowd as yet another criminal was led to his death. Just let them go by I thought but the man falls and the Romans, the Romans for a laugh pick me out of the crowd and force me to help the man carry the cross. Me! And some of my best clothes ruined, filthy and covered in blood! I’ve burnt them now.
I should never have got caught up in it all. A nasty stinking, bloody mess, and splinters! As for him, what a mess! What evil vicious cruelty, and for what? Someone said he was a radical teacher! A teacher, and he gets that?! When we get to the execution site all those people, some jeering and baying, but others, and a good many of them too, standing, watching, crying, just there. Never seen that before or heard of such a thing. Who was that man? And why? Why me? What have I got caught up in? Where do I go now? It was the look he gave me at the end, and the hint, just a hint, of a smile! What was all that about? One thing’s for sure. I’ll never be the same again.”
Maundy Thursday 13th April Matthew 27:55. Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. â€œI am not going to cry. I have positioned myself as near to the cross as I dare so that I can look into his eyes and show him that I am not ashamed of him even though he is dying the most shameful of deaths. I am not going to cry.
I must not because my eyes must remain fixed on his so that he can look at someone who loves him instead of seeing the brutal, arrogant soldiers gambling for his clothes; the stupid ignorant crowd, their faces twisted and contorted as they mock him and the smug selfsatisfied priests and scribes exulting in their victory. Andâ€Ś. and so, that he does not see those who are missing. So that he does not see how all his friends have deserted him except for me and the other women and John. He must not see how few of us are here because the desertion and betrayal by those he counted as friends must be even more painful and agonising than the slow, torturous death by crucifixion. I am not going to cry.
But he has broken my gaze… is he rejecting me? After all, in the hour of his death why would he want support of an insignificant, sinful woman. I am no one. What on earth can I do to help now? But no, he has only looked away to look at his beloved mother and John; to tell John to take care of his mother, to look after her, to give her a home. As he turns his eyes back to me I try my best to communicate by my look, how moved I am by his concern for his mother as he struggles to breathe and as his body is bathed in his own blood. How can they murder such a compassionate, noble and kind man? I am not going to cry. Now as he continues to hold my gaze I am both frightened and awestruck. I see his pain but I see no anger; I see his anguish, but I see no defeat; I see emotions for which I have no name. And then, as time crawls on, even as the shadow of death clouds his gaze, I see a look of almost of power….. of triumph? I struggle to meet his eyes. I have seen dying men before but none of them ever had such an expression. I am not going to cry. I cannot bear it. His eyes have closed. He is dead. And I have realised I have been crying for the past three hours. It was his gaze that gave me the strength to endure this horror, rather than my gaze supporting him.”
Good Friday 14th April The Penitent Thief. Luke 23. 42-43. Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. These words always take me back to singing at the foot of the Cross in the Night Prayer at Taizé. I find their humanity and authenticity deeply moving. In dark times they are a survival rope, stopping me from falling off the edge when there is nothing else to hold. All we know of the life of the Penitent Thief are the moments just before his death. He is a nameless thief who has been sentenced for his crime and accepts his punishment. He must be in great pain and is probably very scared. However, unlike his fellow thief, he doesn’t take out his fear and self-loathing on Jesus. He is aware that there is something different about this Jesus who “has committed no crime.” So he asks. He probably doesn’t expect much comfort in reply. What has he done to deserve such an assurance? But he asks anyway, not just because he seeks hope for himself but because he acknowledges the reality of Jesus and his kingdom. And in return he receives affirmation. Not just hope, not even a promise, but a shining, unequivocal declaration of glory and grace. Did Jesus, in his hour of ultimate brokenness, draw strength and love from this very human request. I like to think so. It can be surprisingly difficult to ask, especially when we are lost in despair and a sense of worthlessness. It can be even harder to accept that our asking – or even our desire to want to ask – will be answered. We are not forgotten or abandoned. Jesus remembers us and welcomes us home.
Holy Saturday 15th April The Virgin Mary. John 19.25. Meanwhile standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene
Holy Saturday – also known as Black Saturday or Easter Eve, but also Joyous Saturday and the Saturday of Light – is the day before Easter and the last day of Holy Week: it commemorates the day in which Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. It is also the day in which the Holy Mother is given the title Our Lady of Solitude, symbolising the grief at the death of her son. As a mark of our continuing respect, Churches are stripped, and the administration of Sacraments is limited. Holy Saturday lasts until dusk, after which the Easter Vigil is celebrated. The service starts with fire and the lighting of the new Paschal Candle; it will be the first Mass since Maundy Thursday. The ‘Gloria’ will be sung, the first time since the start of Lent, and statues and icons will be unveiled, accompanied by the ringing of bells and a shift from darkness to light. It is a time for joy: the Joy of the risen Christ. But let’s return to this verse: it is one of most heart breaking sorrow. The four women standing at the foot of the Cross, watching as Jesus hangs there suffering insults and sorrows. The ultimate grief of a mother: seeing her child die in front of them, knowing there is nothing she can do. Now recall Simeon’s prophecy, “a sword will pierce your own soul”. A sword of pain strikes through her heart and soul at her witness.
And here we have the dichotomy that is Holy Saturday: we must not let the impending joy of Easter obscure what is also a day of intense grief. Holy Saturday is as much a celebration of the impending resurrection of Christ, as it is a celebration – seen here on a day of intense grief - of the strength and unbroken faith of his mother, Mary.
Easter Day Sunday 16th April Mary of Magdala. John 20. 18. Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. Upset, confused and shaken, Mary makes her way to the tomb at the break of day with her mind focused on the past, on golden hours spent with Jesus and the disciples. She has come looking for the ending to her story. Looking to find the body, she fails to recognise the risen Christ until he speaks to her. She turns to him and recognises. It is no surprise that she doesn’t recognise the risen Christ. Unlike Lazarus, this resurrection is not the restoration of the old, rather, the breaking in of something new. Jesus speaks her name; he names her, and as Mary turns around, she turns away from the past and faces the future. He tells her not to cling to him as he was. Mary’s message to the disciples, and to us, is that Jesus is ascending to his Father, and to ours. The resurrection opens a fissure in time through which God’s future streams into the world, ever resurrecting and recreating through the power of the spirit. God’s love for the world, which he invites us to share in, is not an emotional state- it is a giving up of the self to new and endless possibilities in the resurrection which has happened, but which also is still happening: immersing ourselves in the new creation, prising wider the fissure through which God’s kingdom invades worldly kingdoms in and out of time, and taking part in a dynamic of love, eternally exchanged between the father and son, through the spirit.
The transforming effect is such that the disciples, who, in their fear, had abandoned Jesus as he was arrested, were now prepared to defy death rather than deny the truth of the new life. The resurrection is not just a hallmark of a faith we commemorate like an anniversary, it is the climax of God establishing a new, divine reality.
Alleluia, Christ is risen; he is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Afterword The concluding words of our Easter Day reflection, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen; he is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!”, is the Paschal Greeting – or Easter Acclamation – traditional throughout Catholic and Orthodox Christianity. Its declaration begins on Easter Day, and it is said throughout Eastertide. They are words of renewal and joy, that after our Lenten journey, we can rejoice in Christ’s resurrection and the message of hope that God’s love has given to us through the birth, death and rebirth of his son, Jesus Christ. Lent is not easy. It’s not meant to be. The reflections of the past 40 days have been challenging and, at times, demanding, but however difficult, they have all held out a message of hope. During the last six weeks we have relived the journey Christ took that led to his death and eventual resurrection. All was foreseen. But that didn’t make it any easier for those close to Jesus at the time. As well as the hope in the risen Christ, there is another narrative interweaved with Jesus’ story which gives us equal hope, that of his mother, Mary. Mary’s sorrow, as that of any mother at seeing her child suffer, is heart breaking; but it tells of a love and a trust in God which remains firm and resolute. The coming year will have challenges and joys for us all: but when that happens, think back to Lent. To the trials and wonders of those six weeks; what we read and what we learnt. For whenever times are bad, we know one person will never abandon us.
Services and events for Lent and Easter 2017 Wednesday 1st March â€“ Ash Wednesday 1pm Sung Eucharist with Imposition of Ashes Preacher: The Associate Vicar
Music: Byrd: Mass for 4 voices Byrd: Miserere mei 7pm Sung Mass with Imposition of Ashes Preacher: The Guild Vicar Holy Week Monday 10th April 1.10pm Holy Communion Tuesday 11th April 1.10pm Holy Communion Wednesday 12th April 7pm Sung Eucharist of Devotion Preacher: The Guild Vicar Maundy Thursday 13th April 1pm Choral Eucharist
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Published on Mar 1, 2017
This booklet is designed to help you enter into the season of Lent. There is a popular perception that Lent is a time of misery, and whilst...