A reflection for Holy Week

When I opened my social media one morning I caught the comment, in relation to nothing in particular, ‘that’ll wait till after Easter’. Some things won’t. And in another sense some things can’t, shouldn’t be hidden or avoided. I don’t want to be a spoil sport, nor to confront us with things that are just too painful in a world which has pain enough of itself.
Come Easter day it will all be daffodils and Easter eggs, children and fun. Well not quite all. But that is jumping the gun. Let me take you back to the beginning of this, so called ‘Holy Week’.
Some people like to look at the whole drama of this week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday as ‘part of God’s plan’. I think that diminishes God. It doesn’t speak of the God I see in Jesus, or even the pages of the Hebrew scriptures. The events of this week are less planned, more inevitable; earthly as much as heavenly.

Remember that Jesus is a man, God become human, but a man. God does not put his ‘son’, through unimaginable cruelty. Charles Wesley had it right speaking of God ‘contracted to a span, incomprehensibly man’, a God who ‘emptied himself of all but love.’ So this Jesus is God. But he is human, like you and me. Very special, yet nothing special at all. Growing up he had witnessed religious corruption. That is not an anti-semitic comment. The church is just as riddled with corruption today. Occasionally people rise above it, but it is a human characteristic, built into our DNA. We are hard-wired for self-preservation and that makes us want to clamber to the top of the pile. Now and again we managed to repress our natural instincts and become a little more kind, a mite more gracious. Anyway, I digress.

Jesus rode a donkey into an occupied city at the time of a religious festival. Stirred up a crowd. If anything could be calculated to raise the temperature, rather than calm the conflict, that was its precursor. He challenged the religious people, over-turned the tables of the money changers, caused chaos. Then just walked away. Deals are done, silver changes hands, plots are elaborated. In the midst of all of this he shares a meal with his friends. Then an arrest is executed. Now this becomes political. Pilate is confronted rather than ignored. A charge is brought, a thief is dismissed. The dice is thrown, the deed is done. And this Jesus is brutally murdered.

 
Tortured, beaten, scarred and tainted,
Not a picture deftly painted,
More a tattered, battered being,
Torn, disfigured, stark, unseeing.
	
Muscles twisted, strained, contorted,
Body dangling, bruised, distorted.
Life blood drying, sun-baked, stinging,
Hatred, bitter hatred, flinging.

Crowds insensate, tempers vented,
Full of anger, discontented.
Curses scattered, insults flying,
Spurned, derided, God is dying.


And the women wait and watch. And the crowds disperse.
 
The single reason for this death is not, I feel, some cosmic, metaphysical plan but rather the consequence met out to anyone who seeks to embody to the uttermost the love of God. People leave the church when it is suggested that someone THEY consider unworthy is acceptable, is loved by God. Others say the church should not be political when it overturns their fiscal tables and hints that the poor have needs. I am trying to put this delicately because I don’t have Jesus’ courage or willingness to self-sacrifice. 
But the way I see it, this Easter story is less some master plan and more a parable demonstrating how we need to live with each other in this world now. As I think Christian Aid once put it, life before death, and that for everyone, the have-nots as well as we who have. And it is a warning for those of us who seek to be Christian, that it is not always a popular path to take. It has as much, if not more to say, about how we live now, holding all humanity in God’s love, than what happens when we die. 

Do hold fast to faith in resurrection if you have it, but being Christian ought to have as much to do with how we live now and love our neighbours as with what comes hereafter. For this latter, well I’m happy to trust that to God. 

Art © Andrew Pratt; Poem © 1997 Stainer & Bell Ltd

Holy Week – from Sunday to Friday

Holy Week from Sunday to Friday – 
see also separate posts for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday - appearing soon

SUNDAY - From Birth to Pentecost…

When Jesus came to Bethlehem there was no harsh a day, 
they say a census had been called, there was no place to stay;
this baby who would shake the world, would first lay down his head, 
not in a royal house or hall, but in a manger bed.
	
When Jesus went to Nazareth his father had a trade, 
a carpenter now had a son and business plans were laid;
but soon within the temple courts, this lad would have his way, 
dissenting from his parents' wish, they'd looked for him all day.
	
The path that he set out to tread from Jordan's crowded bank
would take him him through a wilderness with neither power nor rank; 
returning he would scourge the ones and verbally deride
a viper's brood, these hypocrites, who dressed themselves in pride.
	
Returning to Jerusalem, but not in regal dress, 
he's seated on a donkey's back, not here to rule or bless;
the temple tables were upturned, but more disturbing still, 
his challenge to authority would cause the air to chill.
	
That chill was in Gethsemane when he knelt down to pray, 
and all the pain of all the world  seared through him on that day; 
the time of crisis had arrived to turn from what was right,
or walk with soldiers on to what now looked like endless night.

The trial came and ones that he had scourged with words scourged him, 
and this was brutal vengeance now, not wondrous, simply grim:
his flesh was ripped, his sinews torn, his body hung to dry, 
and as the darkness gathered round the whole world seemed to sigh.
	
That ragged child that Mary bore was taken from the tree, 
the women waited through three days, covertly went to see:
they found the tomb was empty now, the one they sought had gone, 
and as they raced in fear away, the mystery lingered on.  
	
Yet through two thousand years and more the influence of that man
has rippled down through history from where it first began; 
his spirit stills inspires a faith that trusts to what is right, 
to seek for truth, to live in love, keep justice burning bright.

Metre: 14 14 14 14 
Tune: THE LINCOLNSHIRE POACHER
Words: Andrew E Pratt (born 1948) © 2015 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.
From: More than hymns Stainer Bell Ltd., Stainer & Bell Ltd., 2015.

MONDAY - If he had come …

If he had come as a king with a robe and jewels 
and a crown of gold, 
he would have been impressive.
But there would have been those 
who envied him his wealth, 
tried to steal his jewels, 
or attempted to rob him of his crown.

If he had come with a sword and shield 
and a following army, 
he would have demanded obedience.
But there would have been those 
who feared his sword, 
claimed he was hiding behind his shield, 
or accused him of using military force to conquer them.

If he had come as a priest with elaborate vestments, 
sanctimonious speeches and zealous religious rituals, 
he would have commanded respect.
But there would have been those 
who found his vestments ostentatious, 
suspected him of hypocrisy in his speeches, 
or felt unable to live up to 
the impossible regulation of his religion.

So, when Jesus came as a vulnerable baby, 
grew up in a carpenter’s workshop 
and walked around in everyday clothes, 
meeting and talking to people about God, 
it really was a revelation.

Jesus brought no threat of wealth, or force of might, 
or blocking of the pathway to God.
He was a man and of the people 
and though his robe was stained with blood, 
his crown made of thorns 
and his death an ignominious execution, 
the power of his life has everlasting authority. 

Words: Marjorie Dobson - © Stainer & Bell Ltd 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd ©  Stainer & Bell Ltd., From Unravelling the Mysteries, Stainer & Bell Ltd., 2019

TUESDAY - Crowd control

Flag-waving crowds 
prefer winners to losers; 
feel cheated when their heroes are defeated; 
lose heart when officialdom tears them apart; 
drift away at the end of the day, 
when there seems no reason to stay.

Palm-waving crowds 
greeted their king, 
who said that even the stones would sing 
if the people were silent. 
But authority was defiant and jeering, 
even while the crowds were cheering. 
And by the end of the week, 
very few would speak in support 
of the king the crowds had sought.

©Marjorie Dobson

WEDNESAY - Poem: Crowds are fickle - Mark 11:1-11 and 15: 1-39

Crowds are fickle – 
singing, shouting, 
clapping, waving, 
chanting, cheering, 
wildly blindly enthusiastic, 
brave and fearless, 
happy, noisy – 
on the winning side.

Crowds are fickle – 
shouting, swearing, 
spitting, screaming, 
chanting, boo-ing, 
wildly blindly condemnatory, 
fierce and fearless, 
spewing hatred – 
on the losing side.

Faced with judgement, 
weary, weakened, 
Jesus hearing 
chanting, cheering, 
blindly led by enemy action, 
knew the fickle crowd 
had failed him, 
by their verdict, 
‘Crucify!’

Words: Marjorie Dobson - © Stainer & Bell Ltd 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd ©  Stainer & Bell Ltd., from Unravelling the Mysteries, Stainer & Bell Ltd., 2019

THURSDAY - Each groan of pain from tortured lips 

Each groan of pain from tortured lips,
each tear that falls from anguished eyes,
the slightest murmur of a sigh,
as yet another victim dies,
are nails into the hands of Christ
counting against the tyrant’s lies.

Each agony of starving death,
each haunted look of gaunt despair;
the scrabbling hands that search the dirt
although the earth is cracked and bare,
are echoes in the mind of Christ
of his last agonising prayer.

Each home destroyed by missile blast,
each terror of a war-torn land,
the crying of a frightened child
alone without a loving hand,
are spears pierced in the side of Christ
and pain which he can understand.

Each empty mind which sees no pain,
each ignorance of crying need,
the pleas of those who go unheard
while others wallow in their greed,
are thorns upon the brow of Christ
and open wounds that tear and bleed.

Each healing touch relieving pain,
each voice which speaks aloud for peace,
the giving hearts and willing hands 
working so poverty may cease
are living out the words of Christ,
striving to give his love release.

Metre – 8.8.8.8.8.8. – Suggested tunes – ABINGDON or VENI IMMANUEL
Words: Marjorie Dobson © Stainer & Bell Ltd 2004 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd © Stainer & Bell Ltd., From Multicoloured Maze, Stainer & Bell Ltd., 2004

FRIDAY - Afraid and alone and worn out with his praying 

Afraid and alone and worn out with his praying, 
his friends sleeping soundly and all unaware 
that out in the darkness arrest was approaching, 
and Jesus was frightened and full of despair.

Accused and alone and awaiting the judgement, 
surrounded by enemies out for the kill, 
with none to defend him and friends who’d betrayed him; 
yet Jesus stood resolute, silent and still.

Abandoned, alone and in agony dying, 
the torture and pain brought a cry of despair.
For then, as the crisis of death was approaching 
for Jesus, it felt as if God wasn’t there.

Now dead and alone, they would bury his body, 
those friends who found courage to deal with his death.
A stone sealed the tomb and with soldiers to guard it, 
his enemies thought they’d seen Jesus’ last breath.

Alone in a garden, a woman was weeping.
In spite of precautions, the body was gone.
But then through her tears, she could hear her name spoken 
and Jesus is living. The story goes on!

Metre: 12 11 12 11
Suggested tune: STREETS OF LAREDO
Words: Marjorie Dobson - © Stainer & Bell Ltd 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd ©  Stainer & Bell Ltd., from Unravelling the Mysteries, Stainer & Bell Ltd., 2019