Today is Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week. Back in February, I would never have imagined that we would be spending Holy Week alone or with families in our homes. Whatever it was that we decided on to mark the season of Lent, I doubt any of us made it our intention not to go out and about unnecessarily – even to Church. For some this will have been a real test – the loss of income, the fear about future work, anxieties about distant relatives and the stresses and strains of young families being together with no outside support or distraction. Maybe too periods of enforced aloneness have been a challenge. For others though, those who are keeping our services going, they face the risk of themselves becoming ill, whether it is working in the supermarkets or in our hospitals or in our residential homes that look after those who are most dependent. The lorry drivers and food distributors, the postmen and the parcel deliverers – everyone who is working to keep the basic fabric of our society together and volunteering in our communities to ensure needs are met.
Earlier in the week I spoke to someone about their wedding and finding a future date; it turns out that she was still working – supporting the homeless at the Pathways project in Yeovil; she described how desperate was their situation; no permanent home to go to and hostels not being in any sense ideal environments to live with the demands of social distancing.
For each of us, this time will be different, even as we remain united to distance / isolate ourselves for the common good – as in the refrain from an Italian song doing the rounds ‘ And distance meant love and it kept us alive.’
Such is the context that we begin our Holy Week this year, starting, as always, with the telling of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, riding a donkey (as befits a Messiah) and acclaimed by the crowds along the way – swollen in the city by the Passover festival. ‘Hosanna to the son of David’ they shouted in hope as much as anything. Sometimes we mark this by walking ourselves into or around the Church singing as we go and we hold our Palm Crosses high as we are told how Our palm crosses remind us of the joy of the welcome and the pain of betrayal, life and death and the humility of Christ’s kingship.
The moment of triumph doesn’t last long – in our Sunday liturgies, a prayer and a new Testament reading before we hear the Passion Gospel. This time from the Gospel of Matthew Ch. 26 .14 to 27.66. Read it through and then again through the week! We have the time this year to read attentively; to run our fingers along the sharp edges of betrayal, treachery, denial, humiliation and abandonment ending with the haunting cry My God My God why have you forsaken me?
Embracing this shamed and suffering God — much less following him — is not easy; the German Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote ‘Only a suffering God can help’. Jesus was and is many things: teacher, healer, companion, and Lord, and we experience him in all these ways. But the centre, the heart of who he is, is revealed at the cross. Only a suffering God can help. In the context of our current corona virus epidemic, it means trusting that God is in the very midst of the loss, lament, fear and uncertainty that surrounds us all.
Only a suffering God can help us bear our own burdens and reach out to share the burdens of others. Only a suffering God can teach us how to live and how to love. ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus’ wrote Paul in his letter to the Philippians. And as we start Holy Week we pray for grace that we too may be faithful in following the example of his patience and humility.
Revd Jonathan Morris