Sunday, 20 March 2016

Active Remembering

After Jesus has been warned of the threat Herod poses on his life and dismisses it, he states

"I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem." (Luke 13:33)

Holy Week is the final stage of Lent, what the journey so far has been preparing for. From today's commemoration of Jesus' public entry into Jerusalem to cheering crowds, onwards day by day, the events are recalled that lead up to his betrayal, condemnation, execution and burial, then the discovery of his empty tomb, and his first resurrection appearances. 

The timing of this week each year is linked to the Jewish festival of passover, the occasion when the passion of Jesus occurred. The tradition of active remembrance, imagining and dramatising the story as each day passes, is derived from the way Jews keep the Passover; re-living the story, as if it was happening now and they were participants. 

The whole week, taken like this forms an initiation into an immersive kind of prayer. With good reason, this is central to the process of bringing candidates to baptism. One of the first acts in celebrating Christ's resurrection is the  the baptism of adult candidates and collective renewal of baptismal vows by all the faithful.

During Holy Week services and outside of them in personal prayer, participants seek to imagine unfolding events, and can do so as an observer, surveying and trying to understand the entire scenario, or by taking the point of view of someone taking part in the events. The tradition of Passiontide pageants, tableaux and plays is a way of making concrete this imaginative process.

When he arrives with his disciples, Jesus rides a donkey into the city. To those with a sense of history, this reminds them of a royal entry into the city in a previous millennium, when Solomon receives the throne from his aged father David.

'And the king (David) said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel.' (1 Kings 1:33-34)

It also resonates with a prophetic oracle from the period of the return from exile in Babylon and the re-building of the Temple five hundred years earlier. It looks forward to the Messiah's arrival in Jerusalem. The evangelist cites this as an interpretation of the event.

'Behold, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious. He is humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.' (Zech 9:9)

Jesus is already known in Jerusalem and has a popular reputation, so he is acclaimed as one who belongs to the city, David's city, and its people, though not actually hailed as Messiah, even if many may wonder if this is so.

'Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!' (Matthew 21:9)

He is identified as the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee, and when he visits the Temple he acts as a prophet might be expected to, expelling money changers, declaring they do not belong in holy precincts, and challenging religious leaders who are outraged by his action and demanding an explanation.

In hearing the story, with whom do we identify among its many participants? Can we see it all from several different people's perspectives?

In order to exercise compassion and act lovingly in any situation, our prayer needs to allow us to put ourselves in the position of others in seeking God's guidance. The rehearsal of the Passion of Jesus, annually and in regular reading can teach us to exercise imagination and find compassion in our prayer for others in our locality and in the wider world.

'Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.' (Phil 4:6)

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