Holy Week 2004
The Rectory - April 2004
As we enter April, so we enter Holy Week too. Clergy always try to persuade congregations of the importance of keeping Holy Week from its outset on Palm Sunday through to its climax on Easter Morning, and to follow spiritually that extraordinary journey of Christ that has changed the world. I am no exception. There is no more powerful liturgical experience than to enter into these days wholeheartedly and to sense together that furious movement and emotional turmoil as the story unfolds of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the hope the expectation, the excitement that turns so suddenly to confusion, denial and desertion; the intimacy of bread broken and wine shared amongst friends, and the forsakenness just hours later of Christ on the cross; the darkness of death, the bewilderment of the burial; the breaking forth of light and life on Easter morning.
But the Holy Week experience is so much more than just a re-enactment of Jesus’ last days, a retelling of a story so familiar. Of course that in itself is powerful. But for me at least, each year’s observance is a totally new and different experience, because the world in which we live as individuals, as a community, as a worldwide body is quite different each year. The scars we carry into Holy Week this year and place at the foot of the cross and the new hopes, the longings, the life - all these are changed from how we went into Holy Week last year, and how we will go into it next year. But if we DO understand that Jesus’ journey is also our journey and the journey of the world in which we live, the experience of the week can be truly transforming, as death becomes life.
This year, Holy Week begins with my licensing as priest-in-charge of St Mary’s. This is a moment of uncertainty for us all. I think I have a fairly clear idea of what I am being asked to do, but folk at St Mary’s understandably have been taken aback by the new arrangements. Many St Peter’s and All Saints’ people have been generous in their concern about my workload, and also concerned about what the new responsibilities mean for my continuing life in this parish. So far as I am concerned, it is perfectly OK for these doubts and concerns to be expressed. Indeed I value them, because it reassures me that many people are at this stage accompanying me on the beginnings of a journey. And what is more I have heard only encouragement for the potential outcomes of this period of experimentation, and the possibilities of a much closer relationship between our two parishes.
I believe there is a real desire to uncover structures for our ministry together in the city of Nottingham that will enable us to be much more effective in what we can offer. And this will have spin-offs in our relationships with other churches, both within our own deanery and ecumenically. Indeed, I can honestly tell you that there is real excitement on the part of some of our ecumenical colleagues about the prospects for this initiative. The Holy Week journey has real relevance then, as we formally begin this next period in our lives. Please join us both at the licensing at St Mary’s at 6.30pm on Palm Sunday and on through the week.
But at a totally different level, there is another important happening - actually just before Holy Week begins, and that is our bidding farewell to Mpume Mbonambi who has been with us in Nottingham for the past year trying to work on raising awareness among young people about HIV/AIDS. As everyone knows, this disease has become a shattering pandemic across large swathes of Africa and Asia, and Mpume’s home state of KwaZulu Natal has one of the highest infection rates in the world.
Mpume’s departure is a great loss for our family. She has been living with us and has been an integral part of our lives. Fran and I will miss her very much indeed. But she is also a loss to the city, and I believe that some will wish they had made better use of her skills and her experience. She is writing elsewhere of her experience here, but I know that it has been more than tinged with frustration that there appears to be little realisation outside a narrow professional circle of the explosively destructive potential of the virus in this country if people do not take care. It is not an African virus. It is not a gay virus. It is a virus that has the potential to infect and affect every single one of us, and those involved in education and healthcare, in politics or in community development, or in spiritual development and pastoral care who fail to help people young and old to understand the risks and to take appropriate action in their lifestyle choices, are dicing with death. There are many inspiring stories of hope and life coming out of those countries where the infection rates are worst, and Mpume has tried to tell these stories as well as pass on vital information. This too - a worldwide challenge with very personal and localised outworkings - could and should be part of our Holy Week journey.
Thank you Mpume for all you have sought to do here. You return to Durban with our love and our prayers for your future life, and hope you will continue to walk with us on our journey of life, love and faith.
And may we all walk with courage the way of the cross, that God may reveal to us afresh his outpouring of abundant life on Easter morning.