The month of March this year is set wholly in the season of Lent and Holy Week. Easter Sunday is on April the 1st –so wait for it.. I’m not joking! Lent is the time of preparation for that most important festival in the Christian calendar. But let us just hold back on the tendency to rush forward to celebrate lest we miss the depth of what this season means. Our faith is grounded and earthed in the reality of life and death and everything in between. We are Easter people but before the joy and hope of resurrection comes the despair and anguish of death. The journey through the life and death of Jesus that we relive and share in during Lent and Holy Week keeps our faith in touch with the real life and real death that every person and every family shares in. (No wonder some enjoy the relief of Mothering Sunday with its welcome interjection of colourful celebration and accompanying flowers to lift our spirits.)
Reflection on the Bible readings and listening to certain pieces of music can bring the meaning of the season home. The Passion narratives are so powerful, so too are the seasonal hymns and oratorios that we sing or hear which capture the drama, the pain and anguish in all that leads to up to and includes the Crucifixion of Jesus. Words like these from a Stuart Townend and Keith Getty song which capture the intensity of the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane:
To see the King of heaven fall
in anguish to His knees, the Light and Hope of all the world
now overwhelmed with grief.
What nameless horrors must He see
to cry out in the garden:
'oh, take this cup away from me!
Yet not my will but Yours, yet not my will but Yours?'
It is a horror story. The subject matter does not lend itself to the engaging entertainment of a Nativity scene. Unlike the Christmas story, we cannot make light of the situation and dress up our children as if on the hill of Calvary underneath the shadow of the Cross. Now I speak as someone who conducted a Crib Service last Christmas dressed as an Elf. Don’t misunderstand me, I am all for worship and teaching using engaging and creatively imaginative forms. I suppose at best we can at least gather behind a donkey on Palm Sunday and have fun waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!” No wonder some churches just don’t do Holy Week and concentrate on the Easter Story because we are Easter people. But as difficult as it is, I believe we mustn’t indulge in escapism or denial if our faith is to be honest and real. If our faith is to have something to say, have meaning and be authentic we need to acknowledge the reality of the suffering of the human condition.
In time all of us will face our own horrors of illness and loss. Just last year Stuart Townend wrote a song called “Keep you here” about coming to terms with his brother Phil’s terminal illness. Phil was a teacher at Triangle school. In a You Tube video in Stuart speaks of the writing process and how one weekend the family gathered together to record a version with Phil and how it also enabled them all to reflect and come to terms with the news and how their faith sustained them. Here is a link for those who may be interested:
It was eventually performed at the funeral service at Christ Church in Sowerby Bridge. It is sung from the heart, acknowledging the pain of coming separation that comes in death, but with the Easter hope embedded securely within the lyrics. So read these words for yourself and stay awhile to observe a holy Lent and prepare for the joy of Easter to come:
For time is given and time is taken away;
The least that we can do is make the most of every day.
And we are given and we are taken away;
the best that we can do is give ourselves away.
What good is time if we don’t use it
to find the path within the pain?
Whoever keeps their life will lose it, whoever gives their life will gain.