Holy Saturday: In the eye of the storm.

Neil and I were talking about the feeling of Holy Saturday, after praying the Office of Readings this morning. The reading from the Saints (below) uses beautiful imagery and it had made me think how we experience a hollowness, an emptiness on this part of Holy Week. At the same time, theologically speaking Christ has work to do, bringing salvation to the depths of hell. Neil used an image of his own. Holy Saturday is like being in the eye of a storm. All is still and silent where we are and yet we are aware that powerful forces are moving around us.

Here is the reading from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday:

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

The Seven Last Words 6: “It is Finished.”

When Jesus has received the sour wine, he said ‘It is finished’ and bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

After receiving the sour wine in fulfilment of the scripture, Jesus utters the word “It is finished.” One, with some sympathy, may think that, in the light of the terrible suffering that he has endured that this exclamation ‘It is finished’ is a cry of relief that his suffering is now over- death becomes a merciful release. We might after a difficult task, state “Thank goodness that’s over!”

However to view Jesus’ words in such a light is to miss the significance of what is taking place. We cannot ourselves think ‘It is finally over,” so now we can get back to what we were doing. This phrase, ‘It is finished,’ carries much more the sense of it is completed, consummated and perfected. It is the end or completing of something so that something else can emerge.

John in his gospel set the understanding of the whole gospel drama from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday in the context of the Passover.

From Chapter 2, we have John the Baptist exclaiming “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.’ The Beloved disciples see Jesus take the feast of feasts, the Passover and consummate it in himself.

The Lamb without spot or blemish is sacrificed, the blood shed and sprinkled onto the post and lintel so that death may pass over those covered by the blood. The people set are set free from bondage, so that they might make a covenant with the Lord at Mount Sinai. It is the establishing of the covenant that brings to completion the Passover.

The Seder meal, celebrated by the Jewish people as the Passover feast retells the story of their liberation from slavery into covenant relationship with God.

As the story unfolds four cups of wine are offered to mark the different promises of God. First is the cup of Sanctification: I will bring you out. Second the Cup of salvation: I will free you from being slaves. Third, the cup of Redemption: I will redeem you. Finally the cup of completion: I will take you as my people.

The Last Supper is the celebration of the Passover of Jesus with the disciples. Yet Jesus at particular points re-interprets the Passover in relation to himself and the events that are to take place. Jesus is owning the title “Lamb of God.” He is the true and real Passover Lamb.

The first cup of sanctification Jesus would have had prior to washing his disciples’ feet- these are the actions of the sanctified and true disciple. The second cup of salvation is hinted at in Matthew’s gospel, “The one who has dipped his hand in the bowl will betray me.’ This is played out more fully in the agony of the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus asks three times if this cup may be removed from him and it is fulfilled with the kiss of betrayal by Judas.
The third cup- the cup of redemption- is where Jesus announces the ‘New Covenant in my blood for the forgiveness of sins.’ The fourth cup of completion he doesn’t drink with his disciples, in the upper room. John seems to be telling us that the New Passover began at the Last Supper but was only perfected here on the Cross. The cup of completion is received by Jesus on the end of the hyssop plant in the drinking of the sour wine. Then and only then can he say ‘it is finished, completed and perfects.’ It is less a cry of relief and much more the shout of triumph! “I have done it” The true and living Passover has been celebrated, A new covenant established, a new community emerges built on Mary and the Apostles.

True liberty from Slavery to sin and death; into the promised land of Paradise: “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” is promised, secured and waiting for the redeemed.

It is at the foot of the cross that the true meaning of everything can be understood. The tree of curse has become the Tree of Life again. At the foot of the cross we understand the truth about God, the truth about sin and death and the truth about what it means to be human. Everything that has come before has led to this point and everything comes after leads from this point. We understand what has been and what will be only from the perspective of the cross. This is the great cross point, the axis of all meaning and purpose because the one crucified is the Alpha and Omega. “In the beginning was the Word” states John in the Gospel and in the Book of Revelation the last Words are ‘Amen, Come Lord Jesus!”

The Cross is the point of entry into the heart of God, from whom and for whom, quite simply, everything is. Here beginning and end come together, along with everything along the way from beginning to end.

“It is finished!” I have loved to the point of death. I have loved that others might live. “It is finished.” Come to me because ‘I am. I am the way the truth and the Life.

The Ordinary’s Easter Message

The Ordinary, the Rt Revd Msgr Keith Newton PA, published his Easter message on Maundy Thursday.

In her liturgy from Palm Sunday until Easter Day, the Church gives us the opportunity not only to hear the story of the Lord’s passion, but also the experience of participating in it. We are there, watching with excitement, as He enters into Jerusalem on a colt. We are there in the upper room as He gives His disciples His body and His blood. We are there as He prays in the Garden of Gethsemane to be delivered from His fate. And we are there as He enters into His passion and dies for us on the cross.

But we are not mere spectators. Whilst we might cry “hosanna”, we also cry “crucify Him”. Whilst we are His disciples, like Judas and like Peter, we betray Him. We too can be indifferent to the suffering around us. Each time we separate ourselves from Christ , we help to drive in another nail.

Yet from the sin and suffering of the cross springs hope. The reaction to the teaching and example of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, reminds us that there is a world which is yearning for the good news of Jesus Christ.

My prayer for you this Eastertide is that, through the Holy Spirit, the joy of the resurrection will fill your hearts and the hearts of those whom you love.

The Last Seven Words 5: “I thirst.”

“I thirst,” stands alone as a stark statement of one who has suffered so much: the pain and suffering of the scourging; the sweat and toil of the Via Dolorosa; the blood lost and the struggle to breathe in the slow suffocation and the crucifixion. It is no surprise that the one crucified would seek to alleviate his raging thirst with a drink.

Pure, refreshing water may have brought some comfort to the dying man, but what was in the action of offering vinegar instead? Proverbs states that the “vinegar to the teeth is like smoke to the eyes.” Psalm 68 says, “For they gave me poison, in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” This hardly suggests an act of compassion, more continual abuse by Jesus’ captors.

Yet maybe something was moving in the hearts of the onlookers. Maybe this wine was all that was available. Mark’s gospel speaks of the centurion, who exclaims at Jesus’ death “Surely this was the Son of God.” Jesus in his portrayal of the final judgement and the difference between the righteous and the unrighteous stated, “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink…as you did it to one of the least of these, brethren, you did it to me.”

Set in the broader context this state John tells us that his statement of Jesus “I thirst” was his last act of obedience in fulfilling scripture. It suggests more than a dying man’s thirst but the fulfilment of his vocation.

In Mark and Matthew, the cry of dereliction is taken from Psalm 21. Jesus’ actions and words bring to reality all that was promised and foretold by God through the scriptures- leading us onwards to the wonder of our salvation. Raymond Brown, who insists that in John we are witnessing, not random, chaotic suffering but what was planned in the mind of God: “I thirst” he says points subtly to the latter part of Psalm 22:

“I am poured out like water
My strength is dried up like a potsherd
My tongue sticks to my jaws
You lay me in the dust of death.
A Company of evildoers encircle me,
They have pierced my hands and feet-
They stare and gloat over me
They divide my garments among them
And for my clothing they cast lots.

Jesus makes the psalm his own- a sign of his loving obedience to his heavenly Father’s will. It leads in the next statement of Jesus, “It is finished.” Or ‘completed.’ The job is done.

Many who have considered this statement: I thirst; speak about it being a reflection of Jesus’ own heartfelt passion for those who are the object of his love. A bit like a parable, for those who have ears, let them hear. Jesus says “I thirst” and maybe we should be asking “What for?” Certainly from the Beatitudes we glean that those who thirst for righteousness shall be satisfied. It is a promise and principle of the Kingdom of God.

We are only too aware that it is often our passions that lead us into sin. We might have thought that if only I could neutralise my passions, kill them off, then my struggle to not do the wrong and do the right would be easier.

C.S Lewis argues that our passions in themselves are not evil, but a part of God’s gift to us. He says the problem is that we do not desire enough. We satisfy our passions with that which does not last and is a counterfeit of the real thing. The real object of our desire is Christ.

Jesus thirsts for righteousness and promises those who also thirst- have a passion for righteousness will also be satisfied. The object of Jesus’ thirst is to do the will of his father but is also a thirst for those who are lost, alone and who have wandered far from his presence. It is a thirst even for those who have persecuted and tortured him. It is a thirst that we might repent and come to him in faith- the one who is the fountain of love and life. He thirsts that we might thirst in return, that we might have a passion for the Lord Jesus Christ and walk in the way of life.

Humanity’s response to the passion and thirst of God for us has been to offer the first and best we have, poor though it might be, but too often we have been mean with our responses. Only giving out of what we can afford, what is spare, that which we least desire. It costs us little.

The cost of Jesus’ thirst for us lies before us on the cross. He constantly cries out to us. “”I thirst for your love.” Let it not be said of us, in response:

“For food they gave me poison and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”

Let it rather be that we have responded “My love, my Lord, in weakness and with fear and trembling, I have sought you, to give you my all.”

Services on Easter Day

Easter Day

Saturday 19 April

Vigil Liturgy and First Mass of Easter 8:00pm

Sunday 20 April

Mass of the Day 11:15am

During the Sacred Triduum members of all the communities at St Agnes celebrate together. There’s also a Mass in Polish on Easter Day at 1:00pm.

Services during Holy Week

Palm Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion

Sunday 13 April

Procession and Mass 4:00pm
Mass starts in the hall

Maundy Thursday

Thursday 17 April

Solemn Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper 7:00pm

Good Friday

Friday 18 April

Solemn Liturgy of the Day 3:00pm
Seven Last Words 7: It is finished

During the Sacred Triduum members of all the communities at St Agnes celebrate together.

Members of the Ordinariate community will be attending the Chrism Mass at Our Lady of the Assumption & St Gregory, Warwick Street, on Monday 14 April.