Image one: Standing outside the Forum in the centre of Norwich. 10am and the city is just waking up. The city centre churches have gathered for the Blessing of the Palms. And looking out over the market, the shops and the castle, the Cathedral Choir start to sing:
Cumque audisset populus quod Jesus veniret Hierosolymam exierunt obviam ei.
(When all the people heard the cry that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem, they went forth to meet him.)
Their clear and soaring voices felt like the most beautiful gift to the city. Few were passing by and fewer still perhaps cared or noticed but it still felt like a precious act. A little yeast added to the mix of this fine city. Yeast often goes unnoticed and those who enjoy the final bake are unaware of its presence, but without the yeast the bake would no be all that it is.
The daily offering of worship at the Cathedral goes on largely unnoticed but that does not matter. Listening to the choir’s voices echoing over the city I only know that I understood that it is the doing of it, not the attention it is given, that matters. In some profound way the Cathedral’s daily offering of worship is part of what makes this place a fine city.
Image two: Walking in procession through the city behind Spice, the donkey. Faithfully plodding on wherever he is led, an occasional stumble on the paved stress, the occasional comfort needed when there is an unexpected noise. And there on his back, and on the back of every donkey, the imprint of the cross. This most put upon of beasts for ever associated with the put upon man Jesus.
There are stories of mountains forged on Good Friday, of the Robin and his blooded breast turned red by plucking a thorn from the brow of Christ and the Swallow’s cry for ever echoing the word salvation. With our wisdom we can give other less fanciful explanations but in and through these tales is the message that people down the ages have wanted told: the events we recall in Holy Week matter. These are eight days that change the world – nothing was ever, could ever, be the same again. Two thousand years on and still this story is not forgotten, still it fascinates and draws people. Humble donkey and the love of God forever bound in the same story.
Image three: The story of the trial and death of Jesus has been sung. The large congregation in the Cathedral sit in a long and profound silence. Remembering the Passion of Jesus there is no other adequate response – no rush to words or explanations, just silence. In the face of such sorrow (and love) only silence will do.
Emma Gonzalez, Parkland High School shooting survivor, dared to hold 6 minutes 20 seconds of silence in her speech at the March for our Lives Rally in Washington DC – the time it took the gunman to enter the school and kill seventeen victims. In the face of such tragedy her silence was stronger than her impassioned words.
We rush too quick to comment, to judgement, to reaction. Walking through Holy Week there needs to be much silence. Only in silence will we begin to enter into the mystery of all that God has wrought for us, the revelation of a love beyond words. Silence embraces us, and if we will let it, draws us deeper in until we understand not with our mind but with our heart and our soul.