Holy Week 2020, the year of the coronavirus “& I was there”..like Mary Magdalen the first Holy Week..she fully immersed whilst the rest, questionable & questioning, were less present; Holy Week, 6 days preparing for Holy Saturday; Preparation Day itself, for the Jews the Sabbath, Holy Saturday for us, a day of rest, of pausing, of getting ready for our Sunday Passover, for our Jesus Christ passing over from the crucifixion & death of Good Friday to the empty tomb of Easter morning..this year in particular a day of preparation, of pausing prayerfully, getting ready for the unexpected, whatever that may be, we don’t know; when we read each year the first Holy Week story, we know now what they didn’t know then..& this Holy Saturday? another, like the first, unexpected unbelievable; for days & weeks after it, as the disciples then & us now, struggle to get inside the moment of a resurrection, where life & faith would never be the same again..they, the witnesses to the Resurrection, those “who were there”, & now you & I, witnesses of the virus; in a series of holy weeks, incorporating our liturgical Holy Week this year, in a pilgrimage of exodus & healing of indefinite time..sadly with millions falling on the way..the Way of the Cross indeed..whilst the remnant arrive eventually in a future where“we are prophets of a future not our own”[words of Oscar Romero] “& I was there”..& like the first disciples once they emerged like frightened rabbits from their self-isolation in the Upper Room, we too, when our lockdown finishes, we will come out to tell the full story, from the Stations of the Cross to meeting the Risen Christ, no longer in the guise of a doctor & nurse on an intensive care unit overflowing with victims, but in person; we see a doctor & nurse at work, as Mary thought she saw a gardener, & all the while it was..it is..Christ there in person on the front line, risking all to save us, each of us, let’s be honest, victims in need of critical care, spiritually relationally & physically.
My Holy Week always revisits familiar characters in gospels & by relationship those I have met & been inspired/encouraged by in my life & faith to date; Palm Sunday last Sunday it was Simon of Cyrene; of Jenifer Smith sharing Cross of her sister Clare Jennings ..Monday of Holy Week, as Mary Magdalen washes feet of Jesus, brings to mind my time in Bamber Bridge, & regular visits to a parishioner dying in hospital of cancer; visit in late evening with his wife ever alongside him. We would talk/pray then he would ask his wife to cream his feet; a gift to be there to watch a liturgy of pure love faith & surrender.. the look on his face mirroring that of Jesus at Mary’s loving ministry; Tuesday’s gospel of impetuous Peter “why can’t I follow you now?” as our children, & increasingly ourselves, in this time of impatient social distancing, become hungry/needy for the instant reactive text email or what’s app..fretting Martha’s..when this week in particular Jesus looks towards/needs some quality responsive time in your company..& Jesus looked at rich young man, “looked steadily at him & loved him”..& now at us as he loves us..then Wednesday, Spy Wednesday, with Judas & his journey out of despair into heaven, reaching heaven the day before Jesus “indeed I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise”..Good Friday, with Jesus & Pilate, each trapped imprisoned by higher forces, discovering together, one to one, the presence & identity of truth..”that which cannot be forgotten”do make one to one time with him this week..& then Holy Saturday, the pause moment in salvation history..moment of shock & grief..of loneliness or aloneness?..we can be self-isolating, five in one house, & be lonely, & an 88yr old living alone can be content in one to one company with Jesus; “we were made for these times” not times of loss/despair but trust/faith..words of a piece shared with you on last weekend’s bulletin as author Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote “I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it; it is not allowed to eat from my plate.” & Easter morning; this year an invitation to remember it last year, & to celebrate it far differently this weekend; a once in a lifetime experience for each of us; no gathering of joyful witnesses at empty tomb with an incredible story of resurrection, but this year I would suggest, a quieter gentler subdued realisation that He is indeed risen; however, this year, in the midst of many our our brothers & sisters still, & for some time yet, in Gethsemane or on the road to Calvary, losing loved ones & even their own faith, & our losing medical staff in the footsteps of Christ’s own journey of self-sacrifice, for us an Easter pause moment, for responsive reflection “for the time being”. We are asked for the time being to remain in the Upper Room, frightened shattered by all that is emerging on the outside, afraid to let our own Mary Magdalen in with her breaking news of more extraordinary happenings, & eventually, once we can emerge, once we want to emerge, we will be asked to be the Risen Christ in person, walking on the road to Emmaus with the bereaved & the despairing, who will still be on the Way of the Cross, some weeks or months away yet from an experience of an Easter morning..in need of you to walk alongside them & wait “for the time being” until they invite you in, like Cleopas & his companion, to share the meal of a lifetime..”did not our hearts burn within us as He talked to us on the road?”..
As we come to the end of our third week of self-isolation, I am grateful to those many who are keeping in touch, with words of concern for me & our Community, & for prayers in particular changing situations; for Emily Moore who works in midwifery in London & who has contracted the disease, ill at home down there. For our own Dr Emma Criddle on the front line treating those suffering from the disease in St Thomas’s Hospital in London where the Prime Minister is being treated; for Philippa Armstrong in Gilling who works as an anaesthetist in York District Hospital, & for those geographically distant from us who have emailed me to ask for our prayers for loved ones who have died or who are critically ill…& in the midst of all this tragedy, the cherry tree in our graveyard is in full bloom & has rarely looked better. In our Church, necessarily locked, we keep the sanctuary lamp lit to show Our Lord is still & always among us in the tabernacle, & by relationship, in our hearts.. almost an Upper Room experience for Him as He waits among us & prays alongside us for the moment when our great ship, of our Parish & the world wide Body of Christ, safe moored & in harbour “for the time being”, can again emerge..
..remember please to tell others of our Church food initiative set up by Rev Catherine Reid & myself with great help from Deb & Ray in theVillage Shop; those in financial hardship can go in & quietly ask for a bag of food essentials all prepared for them; our two Churches [increasingly one Church] will source funds to meet the cost. Middlesbrough Food Bank remains open & in desperate need for help, now offered direct to them by cash transfer, or by cash in an envelope posted at St Benedict’s House please. Please keep each of these intentions & many more in your prayers.
“..& even in a crowd, with hundreds jostling round him, clamouring for attention, he would cry out “who touched me?” as if this were something obvious. But he could tell..he could be pressed in on every side & still discern each touch. You see, there are no crowds for him, only people, each one a thing of beauty, each one delicately & unrepeatedly distinct. He sees each face, knows each name, feels each touch & knows its meaning. What do you want me to do for you?” [from “The things He carried”; Stephen Cottrel]