Praying Holy Week

Thoughts for  Holy Week
St. John, St. Luke and St. Mark all tell of Jesus being anointed in preparation for his burial. The details vary but  indicate a common tradition centring on a small community at Bethany. St. John sees Christ’s Church as primarily a Eucharistic and contemplative community That is our primary vocation. That is why through the year we gather morning and evening for the Daily Office; that is why Sunday by Sunday our worship focuses on the Holy Eucharist – and that is  why we go through the hard slog of Holy Week ; to be close to Christ on the Cross, to witness to Jesus as Lord, to offer ourselves as resources for God and the world.

Hidden within the Passion narratives are traces of the first little Jesus communities –homes that dared to believe that Jesus is  the Christ, God’s anointed, God’s Son, the Saviour who redeems the world. Yesterday   in the Passion reading st. Matthew told us of Jesus saying  to someone anonymous: “The Lord has need of it” –and without demur that disciple lends Jesus his donkey – a great act of trust and service. St Luke tells of  the disciples meeting a “man carrying a jar of water who will show you where to prepare for the Supper”. This anonymous offers the cost of food, wine and hospitality. St John tells of Mary taking  costly perfume and anointing  Jesus’ feet. St. Luke’s version tells of supper in the home of Simon the Leper and it is possible to trace evidence of a house-movement community at Bethany , in  Jerusalem, in  Capernaum, all offering  devotion and worship.

In Acts 2,  St. Luke presents  a model of the early Church community :

All who believed were together and had all things in common; distributing to all, as any had need. Day by day, they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

This has served as a model down the ages: St . Augustine in his garden monastery, Benedict at Subiaco, the Beguines, the Brethren of the Common Life, our own Anglican communities – and, at their best, our parish churches – focused in worship and contemplation of Christ  for it is reflective devotion that lies at the heart of discipleship. Yes, we have a duty and a joy to care for the poor but we do that best when first we spend time with Jesus. Always there is the temptation to feel we should be doing something more obviously practical, something measurable by results. And yes, there are practical things that must be done.  There are meals to be prepared, the poor and homeless to care for, the environment to be concerned about. All this must be done – but it is an outcome of contemplation not a substitute.  We are called to be a community of mission but first we have to be a community of prayer and contemplation.

From the C14th.,  Walter Hilton an Augustinian Canon offers advice to someone who seeks both to spend time in prayer and also to serve practically:
The contemplative life is lovely and rewarding and so you must always hold it as the object of your desire; but you must put the active life into practice for it too is necessary and profitable. Therefore, if your peace in devotion is disturbed  by your children , your servants, or any of your fellow Christians asking with reason for their advantage or to comfort their hearts do not be angry with them, or disgruntled, or guilty – as if god would be annoyed with you for leaving Him for any other thing – for it is not so. Cheerfully break off your devotion, whether in prayer or in meditation, and go to discharge your duty  and service to your fellow Christians, as readily as if our Lord himself told you to do it. Put up with it humbly for his love without grumbling, if you can, and without any uneasiness  or disturbance in our heart because of your involvement in such business.

We pray Holy Week that in our little way we may offer devotion to Christ; Mary pours out her devotion;  and the house – the world – is filled with the perfume of God's love.

Worship, contemplation, corporate community and practical service constitute Christian discipleship.

The outcome of our devotion – simply being with Jesus – means that, God willing, we can bring others to Jesus. That is our Mission – our share in God’s Mission.

Evangelism is not about numbers; it is not about persuading someone that our argument is better than theirs; it is not about browbeating. Evangelism is very simply being used by Jesus to bring others to Him. They can then make their own response. What happens next  is up to the Lord.

Jesus’ response to the Greeks coming to him – that is those outside the Jewish community – is to rejoice that : ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.. Here is the moment when Jesus  knows for certain that his mission, his work of salvation and redemption is worldwide, indeed cosmic in scope.

Such worldwide mission is  the task of the people of God –to proclaim the Kingdom by deed as well as word; to build community, to live the Christ community of the  Kingdom even now.

Kingdom values challenge us all.  They are the values lived out by Jesus and proclaimed in the Beatitudes: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,  ‘Blessed are those who mourn,  ‘Blessed are the meek,  ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, ‘Blessed are the merciful ‘Blessed are the pure in heart,  ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,  ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted . Such values lead to the Cross. Jesus rejoices to declare it so: ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. “

The little communities that dare to try  to be Kingdom communities will always struggle to live by Kingdom values – hence the necessity for contemplative prayer: simply looking to Christ to grow like Him. Even then the Way of the Cross goes against the grain.

Here’s Walter Hilton again:
“If your heart should be dull and dark when you set yourself to think about God and you feel neither understanding, pleasure nor devotion as you meditate but only a naked desire  and a weak will so that you want to think about God but cannot: then I think it good for you not too battle with yourself too much, as if you wanted to conquer yourself by your own strength , for in this way you might easily fall into greater darkness .... therefore I regard it safest for you to say your Our Father or else your Matins or to read the book of psalms for that is always a sure standard and will not fail: whoever sticks to it will not go astray.”

Such down to earth spirituality holds us close to Christ even when we may judge otherwise. . Its the down to earth spirituality of Mary  Magdalene that brings her to the garden tomb early to finish the burial preparations. At first she cannot see Christ – only the gardener, only her tears – but through the tears and practicalities come Easter joy.

Contemplation, practical service, hospitality – such constitute evangelism:  to help others see Jesus. 

 

 


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