Vol 11 No. 13 Holy Week

I know of no other appropriate way to begin Holy Week than to read together, as it were, the magnificent passage from Philippians 2.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

It is all very well to embrace the suffering of Jesus, but it is most difficult to fully comprehend His anguish. I know of few other places outside of scripture where that is brought home to me as it is in Rowan Williams description of Jesus, the son … the child of God (and as anyone who has known a son, daughter, nephew, niece, whatever age they are, they are still a child). I can neither read nor hear this without being deeply moved. May it draw you closer to the passion of Good Friday.

The Cry to God as ‘Father’
in the New Testament
is not a calm acknowledgment
of a universal truth about
God’s abstract fatherhood.
It is the Child’s cry
out of a nightmare.

It is the cry of outrage,
fear, shrinking away,
when faced with the horror
of the ‘world’
-yet not simply or exclusively
protest, but trust as well.

‘Abba Father’
all things are possible
to Thee…

This work is found in the Celtic Book of Prayer, which is collated and written in part by Baptists from Northern England.

Many of us who approach Easter, who are also called on to serve in a variety of ways, particularly in the spiritual battle of caring for others and especially in the ministry of the world, can find ourselves before this glorious week with a sense of oppression…for we do not battle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers. I find Martin Luther’s prayer, which was directed towards temporal authorities of his day, to be also a prayer that encourages me in its cry, its deep anguished cry of dependence on God. The cross is foolishness, as we have read, but the cross and He who died on it is our hope. Hear the plaintive, pleading, demanding, and sometimes violent voice of Luther speak to each of us as we pray for God’s help in defying the temptations, the power, and the forces pushing back against us in this Easter week. Hear Martin Luther’s prayer (taken from 2000 Years of Prayer) as you would one of the Psalms.

Oh my God, stand by me against all the world’s wisdom and reason. Oh, do it! You must do it! You alone must do it! Not mine, but yours, is the cause. For myself, I have nothing to do with these great and earthly lords. I would prefer to have peaceful days, and to be out of this turmoil. But this cause is yours, O Lord; it is righteous and eternal. Stand by me, true and eternal God! I trust in no mortal being. God, O God! Do you not hear me, O my God? Are you dead? No. You cannot die; you are only hiding yourself. Have you chosen me for this work? I ask you how I may be sure whether it is your will; for I would never have thought, in all my life, of undertaking anything against such great lords. Stand by me, O God, in the name of your dear Son, Jesus Christ. Christ shall be my Defence and Shelter, my Mighty Fortress, through the might and strength of your Holy Spirit. God help me. Amen.

There is an unusual and unwieldy portion of a play (also found in the book Celtic Daily Prayer) that I have been tempted to use every year over the last nine, the sharing of which I will resist no more. It is purely imaginative, but it has such powerful theological truisms in it that provokes with wonderful understanding the fear that the evil one has on Christ, who raised people from the dead and would Himself rise. I don’t know how to introduce this better, but to invite you to read it. May you be touched by the power of the Risen Lord in this imaginative piece that transitions us between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Satan, the prince and captain of death, said to the prince of hell: ‘Prepare to receive Jesus of Nazareth Himself, who boasted that He was the Son of God, and yet was a man afraid of death. Besides He did many injuries to me and to many others; for those whom I made blind and lame and those also whom I tormented with several devils, He cured by His word; yea, and those whom I brought dead to thee, He by force takes away from thee.’

To this, the prince of hell replied to Satan, ‘Who is that so-powerful prince, and yet a man who is afraid of death? For all the potentates of the earth are subject to my power, whom thou broughtest to subjection by thy power. But if He be so powerful in His human nature, I affirm to thee for truth that He is almighty in His divine nature, and no man can resist His power. When therefore He said He was afraid of death, He designed to ensnare thee, and unhappy it will be to thee for everlasting ages.’

Then Satan, replying, said to the prince of hell, ‘Why didst thou express a doubt, and wast afraid to receive that Jesus of Nazareth, both thy adversary and mine? As for me, I tempted Him and stirred up my old people the Jews with zeal and anger against Him. I sharpened the spear for His suffering; I mixed the gall and vinegar, and commanded that He should drink it; I prepared the cross to crucify Him, and the nails to pierce through His hands and feet; and now His death is near to hand, I will bring Him hither, subject both to thee and me.’

Then the prince of hell answering, said, ‘Thou saidist to me just now, that He took away the dead from me by force. They who have been kept here till they should live again upon the earth, were taken away hence, not by their own power, but by prayers made to God, and their almighty God took them from me. Who then is this Jesus of Nazareth that by His word hath taken away the dead from me without prayer to God? Perhaps it is the same who took away from me Lazarus, after he had been four days dead, and did both stink and was rotten, and of whom I had possession as a dead person, yet He brought him to life again by His power.’

Satan answering, replied to the prince of hell, ‘It is the very same person, Jesus of Nazareth.’

Which, when the prince of hell heard, he said to him, ‘I adjure thee by the powers which belong to thee and me, that thou bring Him not to me. For when I heard of the power of His word, I trembled for fear, and all my impious company were at the same time disturbed. And we were not able to detain Lazarus, but he gave himself a shake, and with all the signs of malice, he immediately went away from us; and the very earth, in which the dead body of Lazarus was lodged presently turned him out alive. And I know now that He is almighty God who could perform such things, who is mighty in His dominion, and mighty in His human nature, who is the Saviour of mankind. Bring not therefore this person hither, for He will set at liberty all those whom I hold in prison under unbelief, and bound with the fetters of their sins, and will conduct them to everlasting life.’

And while Satan and the prince of hell were discoursing thus to each other, on a sudden there was a voice as of thunder and rushing of winds, saying, ‘Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lifted up, O everlasting gates – and the King of Glory shall come in.’

When the prince of hell heard this, he said to Satan, ‘Depart from me, and begone out of my habitations; if thou art a powerful warrior, fight with the King of Glory. But what hast thou to do with Him?’ And he cast him forth from his habitations.

And the prince said to his impious officers, ‘Shut the brass gates of cruelty, and make them fast with iron bars, and fight courageously, lest we all be taken captives.’

But when all the company of the saints heard this they spake with a loud voice of anger to the prince of hell: ’Open thy gates that the King of Glory may come in!’

As we pass through the passion narratives, I come awaiting the bodily resurrection of Jesus with a sense of anticipation, a metaphorical imaginative and somehow symbolic resurrection of Christ. John Updike’s poem, which I originally got from Jonathan Wilson, is something I share every few years in this Easter newsletter. It is wonderfully powerful, and dramatically explicit.

Seven Stanzas at Easter

John Updike

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

Here is a blessing from one Christian (David Adams is an Anglican Minister in Lindisfarne in England) to another. It is also found in 2000 Years of Prayer.

The Lord of the empty tomb, the conquerer of gloom,
come to you.
The Lord in the garden walking, the Lord to Mary talking,
come to you.
The Lord in the upper room, dispelling fear and doom,
come to you.
The Lord on the road to Emmaus, the Lord giving hope to Thomas
come to you.
The Lord appearing on the shore, giving us life for evermore,
come to you.

Finally, let us celebrate the words of scripture, responding to each other “The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed!”

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” Matthew 28: 5-7