Holy Week Video
The Archbishop gives his thoughts on Holy Week. Holy Week is 'a week when we discover in a way we don't at any other time just who we are and who God is'.
In all sorts of ways Holy Week really is the most important week in the Christian year because it's a week when we discover in a way we don't at any other time just we are and just who God is. And we do this in the worship of the Church in very dramatic ways, the whole long tradition of the ceremonies and liturgies of Holy Week is meant to take us through a journey. We begin with identifying ourselves with the people who welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday. We bless palms and palm crosses, we wave them around, we shout Hosanna, and for that moment we are the people on the first Palm Sunday were glad to see Jesus and welcomed him in. And then during the week we have to come to terms with the fact that when Jesus actually does arrive in Jerusalem he turns out not to be so welcome after all and we have to ask ourselves, 'What about us?' When Jesus arrives in our world, in our lives, we actually glad to see him and if Holy Week is going well we really begin to understand why it is that Jesus can seem threatening and dangerous to our safety; and why we, just like the people in Jerusalem in the first Holy Week, don't want him around. So we move through the story; we hear day after day the story of the Passion being read from the Gospels.
In the last few decades, the practise has grown up in lots of Churches of having a particular ceremony on the morning of Maundy Thursday where the priests and the deacons of the Diocese come together with their Bishop to renew their commitment, to renew their promises as Ministers of the Gospel, and for the Bishop to bless the oil that is used in Baptism and Confirmation and Ordination in many Churches. And that is a very important moment for the Ministers of the Church during Holy Week. Like every other Christian, they've been on this journey of self discovery and because for a priest, or a deacon, for an ordained minister, a Bishop, or anyone else; because being a Minister is part of who they are as a Disciple of Jesus, renewing their promises at that moment is a really significant renewal of their baptismal commitment - their commitment as Christians. That is why it is wonderful that there is an opportunity for that renewal of commitment in the middle of Holy Week just as in the ceremonies of Easter Eve the whole congregation will renew their promises made at Baptism. And the blessing of the oil is a reminder to all those who minister the Gospel; first that the things of this world, the ordinary material things like bread and wine, oil and water, are used to convey and symbolise God's grace in powerful, transforming ways in the life of the Church But also because oil is so often associated in the Bible both with anointing and healing it reminds the Ministers of the Gospel that they're there to anoint people in the name of Christ, Christ the word that simply means 'the anointed one', and to bring healing to those alienated from God and from one another and those who are isolated by sickness and suffering from the community. So what happens on the morning of Maundy Thursday is a reaffirmation of the central realities of Christian ministry itself.
We have the Ceremony of the Washing of the Feet. We remember how in that last great event of Jesus' meeting with his Disciples he shows himself to be literally and completely at their service. He kneels down to perform a menial task for them and so in the worship of Maundy Thursday evening the most senior cleric present will wash the feet of the members of the congregation. A reminder of how in Jesus' gospel power, authority and significance is always connected with service and that there is no kind of power that doesn't express itself in service in Christian terms. So on Thursday evening when the Disciples gathered round the table at the Last Supper sharing Jesus' body and blood in the sacrament of the Holy Communion and receiving from him that gift of his humility and his service. Then we move into the darkness of the vigil where we keep watch with Jesus in Gethsemane and like those first disciples who fell asleep and then ran away; once again we have to face the fact that we are not heroes, that we are not willing so much of the time to walk with Jesus to the Cross, that we want to be somewhere else.
When the Eucharist is over; the Altars are stripped, the decorations are taken away, the Church is left absolutely bare and it will be bare in that way for the whole of Good Friday, right up to the beginning of the vigil before Easter. It is if we have come at this point to a moment of real nakedness. We're down to basics; we have to face the most essential facts about us; our need, our poverty. And so it is no time for having flowers and decorations. We take away all the inessentials: bare walls, a bare table and ourselves left face to face with the terrifying reality of Good Friday.
Then on Good Friday in many Churches and many traditions, when the Gospel is read aloud the congregation has to take the part of the crowd in Jerusalem and they have to shout out, 'Crucify him!' It's the ultimate moment of identification with those who wanted Jesus' death. It's the moment when our sinfulness, our failure is really laid bare to us and that's why for so many people Good Friday is a moment of deep self-discovery when we have to face in ourselves all those same motives that lead people two thousand years ago to shout for the death of Jesus.
So we've gone on that journey from the superficial enthusiasm, which welcomes Jesus, to the recognition that Jesus feels dangerous and difficult to us and that a lot of the time we turn away from him.
But of course on Good Friday we are not only discovering something unwelcome about ourselves, we are seeing Christ's arms extended to us on the tree of life as the old Hymn says. We look at Jesus as the source of new hope because we see in his sacrificial love what God is willing to do for us. We see that he knows and understands our darkness more fully than we do ourselves and still embraces us and takes us forward and that becomes absolutely real and concrete in the events of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday morning.
We gather in darkness on Holy Saturday evening. We gather to listen to the story of how God brought light out of darkness at the very beginning and how God's pillar of cloud and fire lead his people through the desert. We celebrate the way in which God set his people free in the story of the Exodus, and we listen to all those prophecies of how God will honour his work and his word and bring it to completion in Jesus. And so we are drawn into the great mystery of Easter, we come to the point when the lights are fully on, the candles are all lit and we can celebrate a light that has dawned again on the world. We've been taken on a journey all week from darkness to light, from the darkness of not really understanding ourselves to the light of seeing God's face clearly and seeing ourselves; from the darkness of recognising our own failures and our sins into the light of hope and forgiveness. And that is why as the first Eucharist of Easter begins we pull all the stops out quite literally, the organ plays, the bells ring and we recognise that the journey for this week, for this time, is over. We've come home to where Jesus is. The risen Jesus is standing with God the Father pouring out in the Holy Spirit his love on the world and we just stand there for a moment at Easter receiving that, basking in it as you might say. We've come on a journey, we've come home and we know that that home is always there for us in the accepting, compassionate love of God which has paid the ultimate sacrifice to make peace between heaven and earth.