As we enter Jerusalem with Jesus today in our worship, we also enter into Holy Week. Although Christmas is seen by many as the most important event of the Church’s year, it is really the events of Holy Week and Easter that make the story of Jesus complete. For Christians, this week is the cause of our hope. It is wonderful that God came among us in human form as Jesus, but still more wonderful that he gave his life for us and rose again for us on that first Easter morning. As we celebrate these events, our hope is renewed and our life restored.
This Sunday (Palm Sunday) we echo the cry of “Hosanna” which greeted Jesus on his arrival into Jerusalem. Next Sunday (Easter Sunday) we sing “Alleluia” as a song of praise and rejoicing. The problem with going straight from “Hosanna” to “Alleluia” is that we miss out everything that comes in between. For Jesus, there was no Resurrection without his experience of betrayal, denial, suffering, death and burial. For his disciples there was no Easter joy without first of all a sense of their own weakness, loss and sorrow. For us too, if Easter is to be anything more than just a nice story or a sentimental happy ending, then we need to join in the experiences, through our worship, of that first Holy Week.
The readings at Mass during the week tell of how the celebrity worship of Jesus fell apart. After all, Jesus had never come to be a hero figure. Not only did the crowds dwindle, but even his closest followers and friends fell away, as we see with the betrayal by Judas and the denial by Peter. If his disciples found it hard to understand the example of humble service which he gave them on Maundy Thursday, there were others who were actively hostile. But Jesus shared supper with his disciples, telling them to “do this in memory of me”. He then began his agonising wait in the Garden of Gethsemene.
Good Friday saw these events come to a head as Jesus was arrested, condemned, scourged and crucified with only a tiny number of faithful followers beside him, other than two thieves on crosses at either side. Life and hope seemed to have gone and on Holy Saturday there was just an empty space. The church is stripped of all adornments during these sacred days to remind us of that sense of loss and emptiness and to invite us to share in it.
The Easter joy only seems to make sense when we have shared the events that led up to it. We then realise that Jesus was not betrayed, deserted and condemned by “bad” people, but by ordinary people just like us. These were people who did not understand, who were afraid and who just went along with the crowd. But just as they were offered forgiveness and a new beginning, so are we. Their sadness and emptiness was replaced by an indescribable joy. Whatever mess we have made of our lives or however bitter we might feel about the past, once we take the message of Easter to heart, then we have an undying hope and sense of newness. Then it makes sense to sing: “Alleluia!”
Holy Week Services
Mon 15th April Mass - St Andrew's at 12 noon.
Tues 16th April Mass - St Peter's at 7.30pm.
Wed 17th April Chrism Mass - St Catherine's at 12 noon.
Maundy Thursday Mass of the Lords Supper and Watch - St Peter's at 8.00pm.
Good Friday Liturgy of the Lords Passion and Death - St Andrew's at 3.00pm
Sat 20th April Vigil and First Mass of Easter - St Peters at 8.00pm
Easter Sunday Masses at the usual times in both churches.
I am a rather old Saint.