Materials for Worship at Home during Holy Week

Nerys writes:  Last week, I met with the pupils and staff of St Mary’s School in the church for our first end of term service in over two years. The teachers had been working hard during the preceding weeks exploring with their classes the stories of the first Easter. In fact, they had engaged the children to such an extent that when I asked them in the service what Easter meant to them, all their responses were about the events of Holy Week. When I confessed to looking forward to hunting and eating chocolate eggs with Young Church on Easter morning, an older boy put up his hand and said,’ I didn’t realise that  you could have fun in church!’ This got me thinking about the way we as Christians are perceived, especially at Easter, and how we ourselves tell the story of the last week of Jesus’ life.

I think films like The Passion of Christ with its emphasis on the horrendous suffering Jesus endured in his last hours, have skewed the way non-churchgoers view Christianity.  ‘Passion’ is from the Latin noun passio, meaning suffering, but in everyday English we use it in a very different way. A person’s passion is what they are passionate about.  The first passion of Jesus was to bring into the world  God’s kingdom of joy, hope, peace and  justice for all people. This, of course, is what led to the passion of Good Friday, but for Jesus, life  – not death- was what his ministry was all about.   ‘I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance’ is what the Good Shepherd says of his flock in John 10.10.

Holy Week starts and finishes with joyful celebrations, a reminder perhaps that as much as anything else, Christ came to bring us joy. It is found right at the beginning of his life in the joyful song of the angels and the exuberance of the shepherds. And in his years of ministry, through miracles like that at the wedding in Cana, as much as through his teaching, Jesus  spoke to his disciples of God’s great love for them ‘so that their joy may be complete’.

Although, Jesus knew that his choice to visit to Jerusalem for the Passover would lead to his suffering and death, his entry into the city  which we read this year from Luke  chapter 19, is a joyful one, accompanied by singing, cheering and the waving of palms. How different it must have been from the entry of Pilate and his troops whose presence int the city at the festival was in order to keep the peace through violence and oppression.

The resurrection of Jesus in Luke has also been associated with joy as well as shock and fear. At the end of  his second appearance in chapter 24, we read that his disciples ‘worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy’. Here, as on the road to Emmaus, Jesus opens his followers’ minds to understand the scriptures and even though they were disbelieving and still wondering, their reaction is joy. In the Book of Acts, it seems that being full of ‘joy and the Holy Spirit’ had become  the hallmark of the Christian life. Paul writing to the Romans, says that ‘the Kingdom of heaven is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (14.17)  and prays that they may be ‘filled with all joy and hope in believing’ (15.13).

So this year, as we read the Gospel of the Passion, Luke chapters 22 and 23, against the backdrop of recent atrocities  in Ukraine,  starvation amongst people in Yemen, the deprivations of 84 million refugees, fear and anxiety caused by the cost of living crisis at home and our own grief and loss, let us not forget the connection between Jesus’ death and his life, between sorrow and joy, our tears and our laughter. That connection is Love which encompasses all and will prevail. God will prevail. Joy will prevail.

As you read or listen to the news this week, I encourage you to do so prayerfully, looking  out for examples of Love at work, even in the most desperate of situations. As you reflect on what you’ve read or heard, ask God to help you to respond as he would, remembering the words attributed to St Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body but yours,
no hands, no feet on earth but yours,
yours are the eyes with which He looks
compassion on this world,
yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.

Oleksandr Antonyuk (Ukrainian artist),  ‘Entrance into Jerusalem’