Holy Week (from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday) climaxes today (Good Friday) as we commemorate the death of Jesus Christ. It is the high point, or perhaps more accurately, the low point of the Christian year, because it is through Christ’s death that God’s works God’s ultimate act of salvation and redemption. It is also the day when our hearts break, because it is we ourselves who put Jesus there.
It is tradition in the Anglican church to read the whole passion narrative on Palm Sunday, and this post links to a recording of that reading that I did in 2012. It is taken from J.B. Phillips translation of the New Testament, a translation (actually, a paraphrase) that I find fresh and beautiful. It is the whole of Mark 14 and 15, starting with the anointing of Jesus at Bethany and ending with Jesus’ burial – 22 minutes of recording (click here).
I am also uploading a reflection on Holy Week that I prepared a couple of years ago, but have not previously shared here. Particularly for those who do not observe Holy Week, I hope that this may give you new and helpful insights into this important period in the life of the Christian. It is a written document, which you can download by clicking here.
My prayer is that over these last days of Lent, we will rediscover the meaning of Christ’s death for ourselves and for the world, that we will mourn and repent, and that we will experience new life with Christ in his resurrection on Sunday.
On his way to the cross, Jesus said that we must hate our life in this world, that like a grain of wheat we must die, and that we must follow him on his journey to the cross (John 12:20-26). This seems to set us up for a path of martyrdom and death, a dark and twisted path. This was a path that many Christians in the early church followed – we read, for example, Ignatius of Antioche pleading with the Church of Rome in about AD107 to not save him from being martyred, eulogising and glorifying the path of suffering and death as the path mapped out by Christ and as the only means of his salvation.
If ‘the path of Jesus’ is a path of martyrdom and death, and if we are called to walk in his footsteps, then we too must become martyrs. Over the centuries this path has been used, for example, to exhort women to remain submissive in abusive marriages – they have the opportunity to suffer as Christ did, they have been told by Christians, and to do so without a word as Christ did. Is this really the path of Christ? Is this really what it means to walk in his footsteps?
All this raises fundamental and, to be honest, rather scary questions about God’s salvation plan: Did Jesus come into the world in order to die? Was it God’s intention – God’s desire – that Jesus should die? Was it always God’s plan that Jesus would die? Could salvation be found nowhere but through Christ’s death? If the answer to all these questions is ‘yes’, then we indeed have a dark message of salvation. And Christian discipleship is itself a dark path.
But in this sermon I want to suggest a different way of thinking about God’s intentions and desires. A different way of thinking about the place of Jesus’ death in God’s masterplan for the salvation of the cosmos. You may not agree with my conclusions – feel free to disagree! But perhaps a new look at Christ’s path will be helpful for all of us. Perhaps this will give us new insights into God’s love for us and God’s investment in our salvation. And perhaps this will open up a Path of Jesus that is truer to God’s deepest intentions.
Figuring out the Anglican communion service (known as the Holy Eucharist) can be quite a challenge, particularly for those of us who did not grow up Anglican. So many words in the prayer book, sit-stand-kneel-stand-kneel-sit and all the robes, chalices, bowing and crossing – it can leave you feeling quite overwhelmed and confused! Many of those who have been members of the Anglican church for many years have forgotten what everything means – we just do what we’ve always done, often without understanding why we’re doing what we’re doing. Many people who are not familiar with the sacramental tradition find it all far to elaborate and ritualistic – a real turn-off.
Because of this, our church decided to run an ‘instructed Eucharist’ – this is our second one. It is a regular Eucharist service (though a little trimmed down to keep it not too long) with commentary provided as we go along, to explain what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. The Anglican service offers some unique experiences of worship, different from most Protestant and charismatic churches. While it is not for everyone, it may still be interesting – even if you’re not Anglican. We are not a very ‘high’ Anglican church – just regular folk who love Jesus and who are members of a small Anglican community church.
Click here to watch a video extract of the setting up of the communion table and the prayers leading up to the Eucharist
(Apologies for the poor visuals. The original video was quite shaky. YouTube has kindly removed the shake by keeping the picture steady but moving the frame around. It’s a little odd, but at least Father Aaron is not shaking anymore!)
Thanks to Lynda Smith for the photograph of an outdoor Eucharist at our parish, held in November 2012.
Often, in the busyness of life, we just go on. We walk the same way we walked yesterday. We go through the motions. We just do what needs to be done. We are not especially purposeful in how we live. We often don’t really think about the direction we are taking, and whether this path will lead us closer to or further away from God. This can be a dangerous way of living – like a zombie. And so the Apostle Paul says, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
So, God calls us to repent. Repentance does not mean to beat yourself up. Rather it is about turning away from sin and death and turning towards God and life. It is about choosing to live in a way that rejects darkness, and embraces the light. It about giving up the negative things in life and taking up the positive. It about turning our back on the devil and walking towards God. It is about salvation!
God stands always with open arms and says “Come! Come, all you who are thirsty; come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Listen! Listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on you. Turn to God, for he will freely pardon” (from Isaiah 55:1-7). God gives second, third, fourth chances – he is infinitely patient. God does not coerce or force – God invites and waits.
We need to challenge ourselves with this question – which way are we going? Are you walking towards sin and death? Or are you walking towards God and life? Such an important question, particularly during Lent – Which way are you going?
In this audio message (click here) we unpack this idea of turning away from death and turning towards life.