Friday, 25 March 2016

Stop, look and listen

Churches that emerged from the sixteenth century protestant reformation regard this day dedicated to the hearing of the story of the passion of Jesus as one occasion in the year when the Lord's Supper should be celebrated, citing support from St Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 11:24 'As often as you eat this bread and drink from this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes'. Yet, since early on in the Christian era, there were two days in the year when the Lord's Supper was not celebrated, as the whole church in different ways not simply remembered but relived the story from Thursday evening to Saturday evening. 

This is a day of quiet attention to the story of Jesus' suffering and death. Each detail of the narrative, from any of the Gospels, can permit a glimpse into the nature of the sinful and evil deeds which caused this injustice. The truth of the story holds a mirror to ourselves, so this becomes a day of expressing sorrow for sin, in ourselves and in our world. It is a day of return to the infinite compassion and mercy of God in as full a way as possible. Not simply in our thoughts, and efforts to pray, but with our whole being. The practise of walking and praying the Way of the Cross originated in Jerusalem and spread throughout the world. It enables worshippers to imagine what happened as if it occurred wherever they are. Active participation of this kind brings home the story's relevance to the whole of humankind. 

The reading of St John's Passion during the liturgical celebration of the Word, takes place during the three hours when Jesus suffered on the cross. The first three Gospels tell the story in a way that invites us to think about who this man is, who sacrifices his life for the sake of divine truth, who'd save others rather than saving himself. It invites us to confess this is the Son of God. St John, on the other hand, announces at the outset of his Gospel that Jesus uniquely is God's Son and eternal Word. He tells the same story in ways that reveal the splendour of divinity in his human existence, above all in the way he offers his life and accepts suffering so completely for God's sake.   

The dramatization of the reading of the Passion Gospel has happened for the past fifteen hundred years in the public life of Christian faith and worship, as a way of enabling believers to identify with the story. Creative imagination and reflection on the passion has resulted in it being represented in visual art, music, poetry and drama, aiming to take worshippers more deeply into its rich depths of meaning. Artistic endeavour by anyone, however simple or sophisticated, is a pathway to deep silent communion at the heart of prayer.

The greatest of the Suffering Servant Songs (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) is read before the Passion is proclaimed. It gives an insight into how Jesus may have understood his own mission, and how the first Christians soon came to understand it, after initial dismay and bewilderment at the shame and horror of his unjust death, and their failure to prevent it.

For all or any part of this day, making time to stop and dwell with thoughts of what it means and commemorates in whatever way we choose to do it, is a conscious effort to look at Jesus look at ourselves, and listen to what God's Spirit has to tell us about mercy and pardon. It is a day for reconciliation, a day for forgiveness, a day of letting go of all that separates us from God, allowing his love to free, strengthen and heal us. A day for re-shaping, re-aligning our future.

'Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.'

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