The watershed that is Passion Sunday has passed and we are on track for Holy Week, sitting in heart and mind somewhere in the village of Bethany a few days before the Passover Festival. In the liturgy of Holy Week beginning next Sunday, with the procession of palms, we have such a concentrated attention to the words and actions of our Lord that I confess to having a struggle each year to anything like adequately take it in.
I have a natural tendency to oscillate between John’s account and that of Luke, but this year we are concentrating on Mark of the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and, of course, we always read from John. The two main difficulties that face us liturgically, in my opinion, are, firstly, how we cope with the range of what happens on Maundy Thursday and secondly, how we mentally and spiritually transport ourselves in less than 48 hours between the afternoon of Good Friday and dawn on Easter Day.
At least we shall have the opportunity to be in our Church buildings this year, which will help, as the visual and musical indications of the deepening crisis of the week, and the impression that we seek to hold of what is happening to Jesus, is reflected not just in the words of the liturgy, but in sight and sound as well. Recently, when Simon and I were chatting in preparation for his ‘Sacred Harmony’ broadcasts from TBNUK, it was around these very points that our discussions centred. Where do we leave ourselves on the evening of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday? The liturgy will reflect the answer.
None of this we do in isolation. Every year we are pondering the mystery of the Cross and Passion of Christ from the point of view of what is happening to each of us, and how we are perceiving what is influencing others, and, indeed, the trends of world opinion and its current travails. In recent weeks woven in with the state of the pandemic and the world’s response have been the political issues and the horrors of violence, and the critical dangers of climate change that become ever more pressing.
As we approach Holy Week we are inclined to pour out a mass of confusion and concern at the foot of the Cross of Christ, some of it worked through in our minds, some of it just too complex or too distant from our experience to unpick with clarity. What I have always found is that Good Friday can bear this concentrated mental and spiritual chaos, but it is also the reason why I am grateful for it holding the longest liturgical act of the year, the Three Hour Service from 12.00 noon to 3.00 p.m. I do not know why clergy try to re-invent it. The Seven Words of Christ from the Cross will always be the starting and ending point for me, as we contemplate the Son of God dying for love of a sinful world.