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

A number of my hymns selected by Pam Rhodes reflecting on Ukraine and included in Hearts & Hymns, Premier Radio including ‘We hear the news in anguish’

Each of these links will open an audio file from the programme first aired on 13th March 2022 –

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

All of Andrew Pratt’s hymns are copyright Stainer & Bell Ltd and texts can be found on HymnQuest

Pause for thought mid-Advent…

When I was a child I used to sleep facing the wall. I lived in a place of comings and goings. We had a guest house. The people around me for half the year had different accents, came and went. Perhaps I’d never see them again. But my parents were constant. Somewhere I’d picked up the idea that people never got shot in the back, that there was an innate ethic even held by bad people. So I slept facing the wall. It was safe. I was hiding my face from the world, and if I could not see it, it could not hurt me. Such is the logic of a small child.

Some of us never grow up. St Paul spoke of seeing through a glass darkly. Sometimes the veil is drawn back and we see the world as it is. It can be the slow drawing back of a curtain on a glorious sunrise, or a lightning flash. But we learn to see the world as it really is. Occasionally we even get to see ourselves, but for that to happen we usually need help.

John the Baptist not so much drew back the curtains as tore them apart. And behind them was a mirror. And the people saw themselves. It was not a pretty sight.

I imagine they had heard about this man, out in the wilderness, wild, unkempt, perhaps a bit of a rogue. Some probably thought it would be entertaining to see him, perhaps a bit of a tease. Some had thought he was a prophet. And so the proud, the pompous, the pretentious gathered by the river. Unusual then, as for us perhaps, the poor and needy mingled with them, pushed and jostled.

And John, this ‘prophet’ spoke. Loud, contentious, not what you’d want to hear in church, not in polite society, not how you, or I, would want to be addressed, no ‘Lords, Ladies, and Gentlemen’ but…

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Luke 3: 7 – 9)

Bit of a shock that. Necessary, though, in preparation for meeting Jesus, the one of whom John said, ‘I baptise you with water, he will baptise with fire’. Jesus would pick up on that message bringing good news to the poor, release for captives and so on. But for now eyes needed to be open. “And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’” (Luke; 3:10).

So before we continue headlong into the parties, if we dare hold them, the carolling and feasting, unless we’ve already begun, a time to pause. A time to turn our faces from the wall to the world, from our self-satisfaction and security to what it might actually mean to follow Jesus. ‘What then, should WE do?’

This will not be a return to the old ‘Normal’, but a new beginning that will burst the bubbles of our self-centredness and open us to the love of a God who trusted humanity sufficiently to become a child, to be suckled by a human mother, held by a human father. This vulnerable baby is the God, from whose love neither you, nor I, nor those we might seek to judge as unworthy can be separated, now or in eternity.

So let us pause for thought, and only then let us celebrate…

Remember what was ahead:

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.

Hymn words Andrew Pratt © 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.

Reflection originally written for the Mid-Cheshire Methodist Circuit 2021