Ancient stairs

The Days before Easter

by The Revd Gareth Gilbert-Hughes | Precentor | St George's Cathedral

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The Days before Easter

by The Revd Gareth Gilbert-Hughes | Precentor | St George's Cathedral

The days before Easter climb like ancient stairs that have been worn away by the feet of millennia of pilgrims. We clamber awkwardly over these days we call ‘holy’: faith compels us. This year, it is likely we shall not be able to gather in our church buildings to walk these steps, and we shall need a good dollop of imagination to sustain faith.

The Jewish feast of Passover — Greek/Aramaic Pascha, Hebrew Pesach — with its themes of exodus from slavery, death of the firstborn, sacrifice of the lamb, blood on the lintels and the hurried meal of faith’s refugees, is greatly treasured by Christ’s people because Jesus reframed the narrative in a way both cosmic and personal: freedom for all from sin and death, through Jesus’ sacrifice. The first Christians kept all-night vigil for Pascha, but one night couldn’t contain this explosion of the peaks and troughs of the story of salvation.

St Georges Cathedral Head shot Gareth Hughes

Keen-eyed Egeria wrote down all she experienced in fourth-century Jerusalem for her ‘dear ladies’ (who perhaps funded her pilgrimage). In the Holy City, our spiritual omphalos, she witnessed how the passion and resurrection were told in real-time and real place, carved into the calendar and graven on the geography, a dramatic journey, from the triumphal entry through the city gate flourishing palm branches to the descent without the city wall to Golgotha and the vigil of hope at the Emptied Tomb.

Holy Week services blur and disintegrate: it’s hard to tell where one ends and another begins. We exult with palms and then we hear the Passion Gospel. We hold our damp-footed love-in and then rip the cloth from the table and kneel in the dark. We stand under the Cross to understand. We feel our way through the blindness of Saturday’s theological no man’s land. In this time of coronavirus, the hope in the midst of the bleak is needed more than ever.

I wonder how we walk these holy steps when we are unmet and dispersed. Their fluidity can be a strength, but it can also make them fall into a mush. For Palm Sunday, if we’re not in complete lockdown, we can find a park to walk in, gather fallen branches of gum leaves and bring them back to hosanna Jesus the servant-king into our homes. That day, we read the Matthew Passion (26.14-7.66): we can read it dramatically with someone being the narrator, someone reading Jesus’ words and others speaking the other characters, or we can meditate quietly on it. Come Maundy Thursday evening, we can wash feet at home, our own or the feet of those with whom we live. On Good Friday, we can sit in front of a cross and read the John Passion (18.1-19.42). And on Easter morning, we can rise early and light a candle to remember our baptism into the life of our risen Lord.

We shall live-stream services with the Archbishop from the Cathedral this Holy Week.

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