With Public worship suspended the Rector has included a short reflection each week to accompany the service that people are being encouraged to use at home. Here are the reflections for Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Day:
PALM SUNDAY (The Rector)
I was listening to the Archbishop of Canterbury the other day reflecting on the fact that on Palm Sunday Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem as a stranger, just one of thousands of pilgrims arriving for the Passover festival. I thought this was odd, having always had a picture of Jesus being welcomed by a huge crowd whose allegiance was changed by the end of the week. But Matthew’s retelling of this event makes it clear: a crowd may have greeted him outside Jerusalem, but once inside the ‘whole city’ (which is maybe a bit of tabloid exaggeration) was asking “who is he?”. We forget the distances between places, the difficulty of travel and that communication didn’t arrive with the speed that even our grandparents were used to. All this meant that Jesus was very much a provincial and ‘local hero’ of whom news was yet to filter through to the ordinary inhabitants of the great city. In his own day most people didn’t have a clue who he was.
The Diocese of London has an ambition to ‘make Christ known’ to every Londoner by 2030…. which is ambitious indeed. However, all Christians should share this ambition- it’s one of the reasons we sent out Christmas cards from St Anne’s to 1800 households in December. Cities, and especially capital cities, can simultaneously be places at the forefront of the latest news and activity whilst also being places of intense loneliness, quite disconnected from and behind the reality and experience of the majority of the country’s population which live outside it.
One of our challenges is to make Christ known in ways that connect with diverse people’s lives and experience, whether they live in a country village, urban sprawl or a gleaming metropolis. We may feel ill-equipped as evangelists, nervous or even reticent to be thought of as ‘pushing our faith on someone else’. But each of us has a part to play in simply inspiring others to ask of Jesus “who is he?”, just as the city was roused to curiosity by the reaction of a smaller crowd to this enigmatic man on a donkey. How does our response to Jesus as a small crowd (and individual members of it) occur to others? What questions does it make them ask – not so much about us- but about Jesus? We can only answer that question for them if we can answer it for ourselves: What it is about Jesus that has us cheering him on Palm Sunday, rather than joining in with the scoffers and those who saw him as an inconvenience later in the week…… “who is he?”.
Holy Week helps us to answer that question, though we may miss the celebrations that articulate it. “Who is he?” he is the one who came from God for all people: those who cheered and those who jeered. He is the one who set us an example by washing the feet of others. He is the one who out of love for humankind laid down his life. He is the one who was raised to life and who we trust is with us now, even now.
GOOD FRIDAY ( Rev’d Dr Canon Keith Riglin)
In the midst of the current pandemic, with so much suffering, and not a few dying, it can seem odd to turn today to a tale of yet another person suffering and, indeed, dying. It’s often said that this strangely named day is all about inevitable human suffering (balanced by an inevitable, yet divine, resurrection at Easter). However, the thrust of the Gospel seems to be the reverse – that on Good Friday (God’s Friday) we see what God is really like, about God being on our side.
So, if you want to know what God is like, consider today. The Word of God has become flesh, says St John. St Matthew says that, at the moment of Jesus’ death, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” – for God has bridged the gap of sin, of all those things (our sins of negligence, weakness, and our own deliberate fault) – those things which have destroyed our natural created relationship with God and with creation. Good Friday is God’s Friday – here is God.
During this current crisis we’re not able to gather together to celebrate the sacrament. So, especially during these days, we can remember that Jesus is God’s ultimate sacrament, Jesus is the outward and visible sign of that inward and spiritual (that is, really real) grace. And Jesus’ action, which is God’s action, on the cross, being the sacrament it is, accomplishes what it symbolises.
Today we know the extent of God’s love, for here is the depth of God’s passion with and for us – God’s compassion – here is the fullness of that desire to bring about something new. Here God changes the old ways of religion – if only I was good enough, if only I hadn’t said that or done that or thought that, maybe God will love me. It’s not like that. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” champions St Paul. Today is the day when the Gospel says, Enough! So, don’t blame God – God has acted, and here, on the cross, we see and know what God is truly like. And if you want to know what we humans are like, or, rather, what we, all of us and each one of us can be like, stay with us to Easter Day, and learn of your true destiny.
EASTER DAY (The Rector)
It probably doesn’t feel much like Easter to many people today. But it didn’t feel much like Easter to the first disciples on the first Easter either. Though John and Peter raced to the tomb in response to Mary’s news that ‘she had seen the Lord’, the rest of them ‘locked indoors’ (oh the irony!) had to rely on their testimony. I’m sure some of Peter and John’s excitement must of rubbed off on them, but it wouldn’t have been the same as if they’d seen Jesus for themselves that day, or it had been safe for them to gather together at the empty tomb.
It’s easy to be a fair-weather disciple, to give thanks to God when life is good- much harder to do so when life is challenging. And yet much of the Old Testament was written by the Jews when they were exiled in Babylon and trying to make sense of God’s special covenant relationship with them there. Similarly, most of the New Testament, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, was written by Christians facing persecution and trial: think of St Paul writing to the church quite literally whilst chained in a prison cell. Faith is forged in times of difficulty and adversity rather than prosperity or ease. Listening to people in some ‘churchy quarters’ agonising about not being able to get to church on Sunday, a priest friend of mine quipped- they should try being a Christian in Iraq or Syria … this is the norm for them. Our current experience and the restrictions upon our lives should give us all a new appreciation of those who have kept or found faith in circumstances of hardship: whether caused by persecution, war or pandemic.
Our gospel tells us that on that first Easter day Mary went to the tomb while it was still dark and it was there she encountered Christ- the light in the darkness. Well, we may feel as though despite the light of day having dawned, the light of Christ is yet to break upon us; on this muted day when we cannot gather as we normally would to celebrate the resurrection we might fail to feel his presence. But look around, the risen Christ is present and with us – though like Mary we may mistake him for a gardener… or a doctor, a nurse or a care worker, or a neighbour doing shopping, or a church member checking in on you. Christ remains risen, present and triumphant, even today. Christ is risen, he risen indeed.