This is one of the most beautiful times in the life of the Church as we journey through the events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day. Churches will be holding a wonderful range of services as well as public acts of witness and even passion plays.
There will be Passover Supper shaped Eucharists to draw us into the events of the Last Supper, the Washing of Feet as we remember Jesus’ new commandment that we love one another, and Vigils late into the night as we recall Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. On Good Friday the cross will have central place in many churches as we think of Jesus’ last hours on the cross and preachers will reflect on the final seven words of Jesus. On Holy Saturday many will be busy decorating churches ready for the following day and that night, bonfires will be lit and the first light of Easter will be brought into darkened churches and candidates will be brought forward for baptism and confirmation. Hardy souls will gather for sunrise and think of the first visitors to the tomb. Then as Easter Sunday fully arrives there will be shouts of “Alleluia” and “He is risen” and no doubt a few Easter Egg hunts as well.
These celebrations all seek to draw us deeper in to the events that lie at the very heart of the Christian story. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that shapes Christianity. One of the very earliest Christian creedal statements was “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”. This is the distinctive heart of our faith, for us this is nothing less than the salvation of the word.
But for all the richness of the liturgies, for all the wise words of the preachers, for all the joy in the shouts of “Alleluia”, I find myself increasingly wanting to shy away from all these words.
It is silence that engulfs my soul as I watch God’s Son take a towel and kneeling washes his disciples’ feet. I gaze in awe as bread is broken and wine is outpoured and I am commanded to do this in remembrance of Him. My heart silently breaks as I contemplate the loneliness and desolation of the Garden of Gethsemane. I stand rooted to the spot before the cross, unable to meet His gaze. Then a fearsome awe seizes my whole being as I spot the first foot prints in the dew beside the now empty tomb.
So forgive me if I only whisper “He is risen” and appear a little withdrawn amidst all the celebration. As I contemplate all that God has done for me in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, I instinctively fall silent. I know it will take all my life and more to even begin to truly understand the significance of the events that we will mark in these coming days. Awe, mystery, wonder wrap themselves around me. The wisest words seem inadequate. Instead I am drawn to footsteps in the dew and know – if I can but comprehend it – that here is a truth that changes both me, and the world, for ever.