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Good Friday, day of second chances

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This week I’ve been listening to Amy Jill Levine’s courses on Holy Week and the Good Friday. One of the things she highlighted is how often Jesus offered people a second chance, Zacchaeus, all those tax collectors and sinners, the woman taken in adultery come to mind and there are many more.

It has an added significance as we revisit the passion, and see the second chance offered to those who denied and betrayed him, to those who sat on the side lines or runaway, or who only found the courage to come to him under the cover of darkness.

As we come to Good Friday, facing the stark reality of the Cross, it can feel like the time for second chances has run out. As we commemorate the crucified Christ it can seem as though we have reached the end of the story, and that our hopes are ending in death, disgrace, betrayal and failure. On Good Friday we begin Lauds by singing these verses from the Byzantine liturgy:

“Life-giving Lord, it is right to sing your praise, for your hands were stretched out on the Cross, and so you destroyed the power of death.”

We start Good Friday by acknowledging Christ as our “Life-giving Lord”, a powerful reminder that the Cross is not the end of the story, but a gateway to new life. The Cross is an essential part of our faith, we need to face it, acknowledging the suffering and death it represents. And, we need to accept the second chance it offers us with it’s promise of new life.

What second chance is Christ offering you this Good Friday?

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The light of Love

Image ©Turvey Abbey

All week we’ve watched tension, uncertainty and fear growing around Jesus and his disciples with the Gospels getting increasingly dark as we’ve journeyed through Holy Week. I often think of the gospel for this evenings mass of the Last Supper as a bright spot in the midst of that darkness.

As he gathers with his disciples to celebrate the Passover Jesus is fully aware that his hour has come. He knows that he is about to be betrayed and that he will soon be facing a brutal and humiliating death. In the midst of that darkness he chooses to wash the feet of his disciples in saying to them:

“If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.”

Jesus’s action takes us back to Mary anointing his feet and we can almost smell the scent permeating the air again. Both gestures treat the bodies of others with respect, honour and compassion. Later we will watch with horror. Later we will watch with horror as Jesus’ body is battered and tortured.

It doesn’t take away the darkness of fear, the or the suffering he is about to undergo, it won’t take away the brutality of crucifixion. It does show us that love cannot be overcome or destroyed whatever we face. It challenges us to discover ways that we can bring the light of that love into the dark spaces of our world today.

Where are you being called to carry the light of Christ love to those around you today?

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A glimmer of light

One of the things that strikes me every year is how much darkness there is in the Easter gospels. It’s there in all the gospel accounts. I’m always struck by it in the beginning of John’s account as we hear it sung in a still dark chapel at the Easter vigil:

“It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb.”

I often have those words in my mind as we wait by the fire for the Paschal candle to be blest and lit. It’s such a tiny light glimmering in the deep dark before dawn, yet it allows us to proclaim “Christ our light”. It’s always a poignant and moving part of our Easter liturgy.

It was particularly so this year as the suffering of war added to the aftermath of pandemic makes the darkness seem very real and very deep. I keep finding myself thinking back to Mary setting out, grieving and afraid, on that dark early morning, thinking she had lost everything and having no idea how her life was about to be changed.

We are also living through dark, frightening and uncertain times that increase our sense of vulnerability in a way that echoes Mary’s dark and lonely walk. Yet, however deep the darkness the light of Risen Christ still shines and cannot be overpowered. However small that light might seem it accompanies us as we walk through these challenging and dark times, offering us new life and hope.

Where is the risen Christ bringing light into your darkness this Easter morning?

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Waiting in hope

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All through the Triduum I’ve been struck by how relevant the ancient wisdom of our faith is to the times we are living in. Today was no exception to that and so I’m reflecting on some words that struck me from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday:

“Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoners Adam and Eve from their pain, he who is God, and Adam’s son.”

They describe the ancient tradition, the harrowing of Hell, when the newly risen Christ descend to hell to free those held by death, starting with the first humans Adam and Eve. Today the reading speaks to me of the darkness of our suffering world that seems overshadowed by death wherever we look. In those circumstances it can be very tempting to sink into an abyss of hopelessness and despair, but that’s not what the stillness and emptiness of Holy Saturday is about.

The sermon reminds me that Holy Saturday is a time of waiting in hope. The risen Christ, who sought out Adam and Eve to wake n them to new life and light will also seek us out. However dark our lives, the risen Christ will find us and awaken us with his offer of a new life and light.

As we wait through the emptiness of Holy Saturday in these challenging times where do you hear the voice of Christ calling you to awaken to new life?

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Christ our Life

Image ©Turvey Abbey

At Office of Readings on Good Friday we sing the Lamentations of the Jeremiah. This morning I was struck by their opening lines:

“All of you who pass this way, look and see,
is any sorrow like the sorrow that afflicts me?”

It seems the perfect verse for this Good Friday that we come to bearing the overwhelming sufferings of the pandemic and of the war in Ukraine. It’s a suffering that desperately needs acknowledging, and the cross is the only place that can hold it.

Yet, in Lauds I found the Lamentations were given a new and broader perspective by these verses from the Byzantine liturgy:

“How can you die, Christ our Life?
How can you lie in the tomb?
By your death you will destroy the power of death,
And you will raise the dead from their tombs.”

They Echo the heart breaking sorrow of Jeremiah, giving us a place to acknowledge our own heartbreak and suffering. Yet, they also carry us beyond that. They point out that our faith doesn’t stop at the cross. The cruel suffering that the cross represents is a staging post on our journey to new life in the resurrection. They remind us that the Christ who lay in the tomb is already risen. He is with us in the sufferings and uncertainties of our times and will lead us through that to the new life that his resurrection promises.

As we bring our sorrows before the cross this Good Friday where are you inspired by the hope of the new life Christ promises?

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Extravagant Love

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Today, listening to Paula Gooder’s reflection on the women of Holy Week I was touched Susanna’s words to the other women after Jesus and the disciples head to Gethsemane, leaving a sense of dread behind them:

“That’s the problem with extravagant love, it brings with it extravagant heartbreak.”

Her words seem sum up all everything this Holy Week journey, and indeed the whole gospel is about, the call to love with all its delights and costliness.

This love is symbolised on Maundy Thursday by Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. It’s an act of love, service and fellowship that touches my heart every year. It recalls the thousands of services we are called to perform for each other every day. Its simplicity and practicality encapsulates everything from loading the dishwasher to listening to and supporting the broken hearted.

As we carry out the action in our liturgy we hear these words from John’s Gospel:

“I give you a new commandment: that you love one another just as I have loved you.”

Jesus’ love is complete and wholehearted. It takes a clear-sighted view of his disciples, seeing all their faults and still loving them. It’s extravagant and generous. It calls us to love in the same way, both accepting and giving love wholeheartedly and extravagantly. It seems to me that those are equally challenging. As we begin to celebrate the Triduum I am aware of how much our broken hearted world world needs that transforming, extravagant love.

Where are you called to accept the extravagant, heart breaking love of Christ this Holy Week?