Holy Week is the most solemn week in the Church’s liturgical year. It commemorates through ritual and prayer the process of death, burial and resurrection that Jesus passed through in a most dramatic way. And yet this process is a rhythm of life that we all pass through, not only at the end of our time but in so many forms along the way.
As our dog and I took our usual walk this morning through the bush at the back of our place, crossed over the creek and ascended the track through the shade of the tress into the early sunlight I was reflecting on our annual commemoration of Anzac Day. I guess we have all heard critics argue that it is pointless celebrating the defeat, or rather the rout of the allies at Gallipoli, in which so many human beings lost their lives. But, of course, it is not about the defeat or any particular military campaign. It is about the phenomenon of service; it is about honouring those who served their fellow citizens to the extent of being prepared to sacrifice their own lives. As Jesus said with profound truth,
‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13).
The gospel of John records how Jesus was none too thrilled about facing what he believed would be torture and a brutal death. ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? Why didn’t he just leave town? He could have walked away from the whole event and yet he was gripped by a sense of purpose and commitment to the divine will. ‘No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ (John 12:27). Just as a by-the-way, the Greek word psyche translated as ‘soul’ refers to one’s inner being, that is, Jesus was troubled in the depths of his inner being.
What strikes me as something to take away from this is the enormous maturity of Jesus who had the courage to be disliked and to ignore the opinions of the hostile. This composure enabled him to just ‘let go’ and put himself in the hands of his Abba. And I think, what trust, coming from a human being who was only in his early 30s! What wholeness in a personality that surely must have wrestled with the fear that his mission and his efforts were doomed to failure! But with all that, he was prepared to sacrifice himself for his friends.
At the end, his friends were dear to him as he declared when they reclined with him in the intimacy of their last meal together, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.’ (Luke 22:15). This relationship is highlighted when he asks them to remember him every time they gather for a meal. The point is, he is there in the unity and the intimacy of the friends. Just for a moment, take the ritual sacredness of the sacramental Eucharist out of consideration and reflect on the connection of spirit touching spirit when we gather to remember him.
It hits us between the eyes when we re-present Jesus washing the feet of his friends on Holy Thursday. Peter, in his confusion, was not ready for such intimacy from the one he respected so highly and yet Jesus quite calmly carried on – urging Peter to ‘let go.’ The scene tells me these are not the actions of a man in panic, but one whose commitment to the divine plan and the inevitable flows out of a rich spirituality and a profound bond with the Living Presence.
What do we need to let go of in order to grow to wholeness? What is the call to maturity in Christ asking us to surrender? Perhaps to forgo perfectionism and the desire for recognition. Notice how unfree individuals are who feel they are not given enough credit; or how uneasy control freaks are when things do not go perfectly. Freedom comes when we resign from being managing director of the universe.
What is the ‘self’ that we need to die to in order to rise again as a new self? When Jesus asks us to deny ourselves, what is he getting at? (Luke 9:23). What is holding me back from this…?
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
Jesus’ whole life was dedicated to reaching out to others. What we commemorate this week is his ultimate self-giving, motivated by an extraordinary love and a desire to ‘be with.’ Surely Easter can be a time of our fruit-bearing as we nourish our relationships, as we become towel and basin people spiritually washing the feet of others with the kind of appreciation and encouragement that are expressions of authentic love.
© 2021 Laurie Woods