This week known as Holy Week is for Christians a key time in the church year, certainly of equal importance with Christmas. Admittedly, for most of the rest of the UK, it’s simply the precursor to a long weekend, accompanied by lots of chocolate and hot cross buns. And indeed due to the busyness of life, those of us who attend church often move seamlessly from Palm Sunday (last Sunday) to Easter, glossing over all the bits in the middle. It’s so very easy to do.
As I reflected on what to write for this week, I found myself thinking about what this Holy Week holds for me. Yesterday I was honoured to take the funeral of a good friend, of whom you could truly say, it was a life well lived; he died aged 90. Today I am with the Bishops and hundreds of other clergy in this diocese, as together we reaffirm our ordination vows in the Cathedral at the annual Chrism Mass, before going to Lyford church for the Eucharist of the Last Supper. And on to Good Friday.
These are the days when we travel with Jesus into Jerusalem. We walk with him through the city. We sit with him at the Last Supper. We pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he prays for the coming anguish to pass him by. We watch as he is betrayed, flogged, endures unspeakable pain, and is finally put to death on a cross.
And then we wait, for hope to be reborn in those dark hours before dawn, the hope which we will finally see with the rising of the sun on Easter Day.
For we are an Easter people. We know that hope is coming. We live in the light of the Resurrection.
The problem is, for so many of us, that light is far off, and we are still stuck somewhere in Gethsemane, or in Good Friday. Whether it is through grief, or some other personal circumstance, we are often in places of doubt, anxiety, even anguish, and terror. And unlike the story of Jesus, we don’t know what will happen next! We do believe that there is hope, that God does indeed hold us safe in his hands, but we also know that whilst God holds us, he does not rescue us from suffering and struggle. Rather he walks through it with us, every agonising step of the way. He is our truest and closest companion, the one who stays no matter what. The one who keeps the tiny flickering flame of hope alive within us.
My favourite service of Holy Week, as many of you know, is the Easter Eve Service of Light, also known as the Easter Vigil. The church is in darkness. We light the Easter flame outside, as night falls, and bring that light of Christ back in to the church in joy and celebration.
It’s a symbol of hope, and symbols are so powerful. Right now, looking around our world, and for many of us in our personal lives, there is so much that is not right. But there are also seeds of good, and the sunrise will come, and the bright light of Easter and Resurrection will banish the dark of our fears and grief.
So let us draw comfort from that hope which we celebrate at Easter, and every Sunday: that Christ is Risen, and that he is victorious over all evil.
And in the meantime, at risk of trivialising, let us draw more worldly comfort from hot cross buns, chocolate, and being together.