Wednesday 5 April 2023

And suddenly it is Holy Week…

And suddenly it is Holy Week… I suspect that for some of us it comes as rather a relief. Somewhat like the Israelites in the desert who long for the melons and cucumbers (or were they cornichons and cantaloupes?) of Egypt, we might be a bit fed up of our Lenten penances, or at least finding that the zeal with which we entered into Lent is somewhat lagging by now. Such is the difficulty of long preparations — we can easily lose sight of why we began it at all after a while. So Holy Week comes as an almighty wake up call, another opportunity for us at last to get things right with God, and put our life with him on track again. Our Lent might have been rather ‘I’ focused: ‘my’ penances, ‘my’ sacrifices, ‘my’ charity, ‘my’ spiritual reading, but Holy Week rather takes us by the shoulders, gives us a good shake about, and lets us focus on the only thing that, in the end, and certainly at The End, really matters — and that is God and our life with him.

We are already well into Holy Week by now, but with the Sacred Triduum just about to begin we still have time to prepare: in a practical way by trying to shift a few things in our diary so we can be with the Lord in the liturgies of these days, but also by that best preparation of making our confession if we haven’t done so recently already.

The days of preparation and anticipation come then to the beginning of the Sacred Triduum when we are invited into the intimacy of the life of Christ and his disciples as, during the Passover which he shares with them, he gives them the new commandment: that we should love one another as he has loved us. And then institutes those two abiding signs of his great love for us: the Eucharist and the Priesthood. Those two signs are rooted in his love and, please God, are always for us the sure sign of it — but a love of which the hallmark is sacrifice. So to prepare for the sacrifice of his own life, the shedding of his blood which will take away our sins, the Lord goes to Gethsemane to pray to his Father and ours. And we follow him there, and in our watching before the Altar of Repose we try so very hard to stay awake and watch with him, if only for an hour, to give him who has given us life all the time we can in that moment, as he prepared to pour out his life for ours.

And then he is taken from us and the church is strangely empty. “Oh come and mourn with me awhile” Father Faber of the Oratory urges us in his hymn, and so we do what we must when we lose sight of the One we love — we give full vent to our loss in the beauty of Tenebrae on Good Friday and Holy Saturday mornings. Though we lose sight of him we do not cease to look for him, nor to follow the path he has traced for us — and we follow him to Calvary with the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday and then, whilst those around us may have fled to other distractions, we stand with Mary beside the Cross of Christ to witness the greatest act of love anyone will ever make for us and for many with the Solemn Liturgy of the Passion. And if we can say nothing to him at all when confronted with the enormity of our sins, surpassed by the enormity of his love, we might at least come to tell him ‘thank you’: for dying for me, for loving me, and asking him to help us accept that love.

On Holy Saturday when he lies in the tomb we mourn amidst the stillness and the silence that is unique to that day, but knowing that we do so in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection. And darkness falls, darkness in which a light is kindled that can never go out, for a new day begins to creep in, and we enter into his time and out of ours once again, and then the light shines in the darkness for all the world to see, and as at the beginning of the Easter Vigil the light of Christ illuminates the whole church, and as his light kindles our own, suddenly but so quietly everything is different, for we are redeemed…

And at last it is morning, and everything appears to be different, for he has changed it. Will we, I wonder, come and see, as he is ever inviting us, and ourselves be changed also this Holy Week?

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