Sometimes quite random but rather amazing coincidences happen, as did one such last Saturday. Helen and I were starting reading a new book together, and we opted for The Confession of Brother Haluin by Ellis Peters - the 15th Chronicle of Bother Cadfael - which begins in the harsh December of 1142, with snow, and King Stephen having the Empress Maud starved out of a besieged Oxford and apparently about to capitulate and end five years of civil war. It is graphic in its description of the weather, through which Maud makes her escape, and creates the chance for battle to resume once again.
Picking up our copy of the Saturday Guardian and flicking through the Review section, mention of a new non-fiction book Matilda, Empress, Queen, Warrior, by Catherine Hanley, caught my eye, beginning, ‘In 1142 Empress Matilda escaped from Oxford castle where she was being held by her dynastic rival, Stephen of Blois. Since it was a snowy December, the self-proclaimed “Lady of the English” wrapped herself in a white fur cloak to blend into the snowy landscape before skating down the frozen Thames to freedom.” Needless to say I hardly knew if I was still in Cadfael or not…
Such parallels do happen. One goes on holiday to a particular place and having seen a family in the motorway service station at the same time as you on the way, there they are visiting the same garden as you the next day, and, lo and behold, you bump into them again somewhere else the day after. Different clothes, different day, but the same people.
How it is that the Gospel writers create such similar, yet in places such strikingly variable, accounts of events in the life of Jesus is a study which for two thousand years has enriched the Church. No where is this more apparent than in the record of the first Holy Week. This year, as we turn from Luke to John and back again, we see that there is no attempt to artificially smooth them into one. They teach us different things, highlighting first one aspect and then another of the steps to the Cross.
Even having read these things year after year for half a century, the surprise of linking similar themes from Palm Sunday to Calvary is constantly revealing. This Passiontide, for me, John chapter 12 is coming alive afresh. These are verses full of encounter and relationship, of friend and stranger, family and follower, companionship and confrontation. The very presence of Jesus is bringing about the interweaving of events that John later faithfully recorded, to demonstrate revelation in its everyday reality which was, nonetheless, to lead to the inevitability of the Cross. As we journey onwards to Good Friday, the darkness deepens, but one feels too the guiding light of the Father upon these pages of our most treasured Scripture.