John12:1-8; Phil 3:4b-14
5th Sunday of Lent
St Barbara’s Church 13.03.16
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Are you ever tempted to jump from the beginning to the end of a book? You’ve found out who the main characters are, you can get a rough sense of the plot and possible ways it may be heading, and so rather than put in the hard yards of actually having to read the several hundred pages in between, you jump to the ending, to find out how it is all resolved.
Or maybe you are watching a football or rugby match on TV. You get a rough sense in the first 15 minutes of where the match is heading, who is on top, and so you pop out, make a cup of tea, maybe do a bit of gardening or DIY or housework, and rejoin the match for the final five minutes to see the end and the final score.
Imagine being a Leicester City football fan. You watched the first few games of the season – were pleased with how things had started – and then didn’t follow anything until the final game of the season. You will discover how their season ends, but that will only be half the story.
We’ve picked up the beginning and the end – in fact we might even be quite pleased with the ending – but there may be a degree of dissatisfaction as well. We may have found out how it all finished, but we missed out on how it got there – the ups and downs, the emotions and themes involved.
Sometimes in church we can be in danger of doing the same with the Easter story. We focus on Jesus’ life and ministry – his teaching, his miracles – and we get as far as Palm Sunday, and then the following Sunday we find ourselves at Easter Sunday, celebrating Christ’s resurrection, having missed out the most crucial part in between.
I remember the first time as an adult I attended a church where the events of Holy Week were marked by daily services, where I was encouraged to reflect upon and journey through the events of the last week of Jesus. To put aside time to mark the week, to make it special, to avoid going from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday with nothing in-between.
The experience overwhelmed me. During the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday of Holy Week, experiencing the steady, almost inevitable journey to the cross, the deepening of the shadows. And then on Maundy Thursday, re-living the events of the last supper – Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, breaking bread, praying in the garden of Gethsemane. And on Good Friday, coming before the desolation of the cross, mirrored in the stark emptiness of the church. Saturday proved to be a strange day of limbo. But by the time Easter Sunday came I was ready – getting up before dawn on Easter Sunday, to celebrate Christ’s resurrection with the rising of the sun. Travelling the journey rather than my normal practice of skipping to the end transformed Easter.
Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians that we heard read this morning: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings…”
Holy Week gives us an opportunity to know Christ, to reflect on and experience his sufferings that we may know the power of his resurrection. It is not the only way, but it is a good way, a way that only comes round once a year.
So can I encourage you to make an effort to mark Holy Week and Easter this year. It may be by coming along to some of our services during the week that you wouldn’t normally come to – the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services are particularly moving services. If getting out is difficult, you may want to commit yourself to reading a part of the story of the last week of Jesus’ life each day from one of the gospels. Put aside time to reflect and meditate on what you read. And can I encourage you, if you are able, to come to our Sunrise Service on Easter morning. We start with a bonfire outside as we recall the great works of God from creation to the coming of Christ. We then enter into the darkened church lit only by our candles. As the sun rises, so we burst out in wonderful praise. We renew our baptism vows. And afterwards we all share a fantastic cooked breakfast afterwards! I know that for many, including my own children, it is the most wonderful service of the whole year.
Why am I telling you now, rather than next week. Well – so that you can plan ahead. All the main services are on the parish newsletter and in this week’s weekly leaflet.
I appreciate there is a cost to engaging with Holy Week. Coming along to services or putting aside time to meditate on the story, means time not spent doing other things. For many people here, I appreciate that life is very busy, or very difficult.
But time spent worshipping at the feet of Jesus is the best use of our time we can ever make. Mary, in our Gospel reading, was not upbraided by Jesus for pouring hugely expensive perfume on his feet. Indeed, quite the opposite. She was not wasting time; she was treasuring it. She was not neglecting the needs of others; she was realising that to best serve, she needed to draw from Christ first. In identifying with Christ’s sufferings, she discovered that Christ identified with her in her sufferings too.
So do take a lead from Mary, do heed Paul’s words, and give time to travelling the whole journey this Holy Week and Easter. Amen.