Eternal Father, your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, fulfilled your will by taking our nature and giving his life for us: help us to follow the example of his humility by walking in the way of the cross; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (An Anglican Prayer Book 1989 pg 174)
Today marks the beginning of Holy Week: our annual pilgrimage with Christ on the final journey to the cross. This is a journey Jesus embraced knowingly, as we will remember on Maundy Thursday. Today’s collect (above) draws the alpha towards the omega: Jesus birth at Christmas now enfolded in his death, the beginning at an end, yet not. We will celebrate another new beginning, a resurrection on Easter Sunday. But this week we walk with Jesus towards his death, we journey together as we have before in our Baptism into the death – and life – of Christ!
And we begin the journey at Jerusalem’s gate, on a donkey, with a crowd pressing in, a joyful crowd, palms waving and strewn before us on the ground, cloaks tossed down to carpet our path. A humble donkey for us, no conqueror’s war-horse, just a donkey. No army, just disciples. And a crowd. A crowd that responds to Scripture, to a knowledge, to an expectation of freedom. And we are that picture. As the rabble responds, so the authorities take note and begin to plot our downfall, our death. And we walk on towards a death this same rabble will cry out for, stirred by those who seek our demise.
But today is a day of celebration. And hope. This Jesus, a Galilean with roots in Judah, takes possession of Jerusalem, and becomes a symbol of our desire for freedom: freedom from Rome, from Greece, from Syria, from all who have oppressed us over centuries, from all that holds us back from experiencing life in abundance.
What do you celebrate today? How is Jesus a sign of hope to you, now? What freedom do you look for and see in this Saviour on a donkey, powerful enough not to need the war-horse for show? What constricts you? What hurts you?
See the sign of God: see Jesus. See that God is present and has already begun to act, has already begun the process of setting you free. And rejoice!
Make us true followers of Jesus, each day of this coming Holy Week, that as we walk the way of his cross, we may commit ourselves all over again to the fashioning of his Kingdom in Jerusalem, in our own communities and across your world. Amen
(Prayer by Maxwell Craig in “Lent & Easter Readings from IONA” pg 49)
Canon Mark Long
Monday in Holy Week
The Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 42:1-7)
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. … I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:1, 6-7 TNIV).
As Jesus contemplates his death, we contemplate today his purpose: that which God is doing through him in our world, and continues to do today. The above words spoken by Isaiah centuries earlier speak directly into Jesus’ experience as we reflect on what God was doing, and continues to do today, no longer in Jesus, but now in us through Jesus, and through the Spirit of God. Isaiah speaks of God’s delight, God’s absolute pleasure in Jesus … and in me … and also in you. We, too, have been chosen; we, too, delight the heart of God. What a thought!
Isaiah speaks of hope, and it is a hope that we as God’s people, as those who have discovered new life through Jesus Christ, are called to live out. Can you imagine being blind, maybe from birth, and suddenly being able to see? Or a prisoner, and suddenly free? Jesus death and subsequent resurrection is this covenant of which Isaiah speaks, a covenant that resources us to make this image, this vision, real in practical ways: to bring others into relationship with this God who gives sight, who brings light into the deepest darkness, who brings hope into situations seemingly lost and beyond control. The chaos of our lives, of our society is not beyond the ability of God, and not beyond the ability of us who draw on the resource of God’s love.
How is your life an image of hope to others: to family, friends, colleagues, even strangers? When last did your smile rekindle light in someone else’s eyes?
O God, our maker, open our eyes to new possibilities and perspectives, organisations and projects, structures and outlooks …
Help us to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem:
to break down the barriers in ourselves that prevent us from reaching out to neighbours and making peace; to rebuild communities based on understanding and justice, illuminated with the true light of Christ. Amen
(Prayer by Neil Paynter in “Lent & Easter Readings from IONA” pg 62)
Canon Mark Long
Tuesday in Holy Week
The second Servant Song (Isaiah 49:1-6)
“Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name.” … [God said] “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:1b, 6 TNIV).
Predestination is one of those “Biblical concepts” that leaves us a little lost on occasion. The above passage is one that the Church has long understood to refer to Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, who would step in and be God’s answer to the need of his people. To be called by God is not to “boxed” by God, but rather set free to fulfil our purpose as human beings and as children of God. God has not predestined our every action, or even the manner in which we will live our lives, but we will be used towards his greater purpose if we are willing to make ourselves available. There is a bigger plan, a bigger purpose that God calls us to. If we seek to serve God we will often find that our decisions made out of our own free will lead us towards this greater purpose. We find we are steered by the Spirit of God, never coerced.
Leadership often places us beyond the boundaries where we feel comfortable and competent (“It is too smaller thing …”) but never beyond God’s grace. As God’s children we are all called to leadership, particularly in living lives that are good on a moral and ethical level. This is part of our calling as Christians. Additionally, we give leadership as parents, as members of our peer group, as interactors in our society. Leadership does not always have to be recognised to be real: it is about setting an example and allowing our beliefs to inform our actions.
You are called. You have purpose. Start living it, and you will discover it!
Jesus, help us to create churches with your passion and light planted at the heart; Churches where we are prepared to address injustice and where “in a gesture a thousand words are spoken”; challenging, prophetic churches possessing a generous, rich fund of warmth and love and welcome and real celebration.
Christ, light and life of the world, bless your Church with the grace and power to flourish and bear fruit; the courage and faith to grow rooted in your gospel and in the grassroots of community. Amen
(Prayer by Neil Paynter in “Lent & Easter Readings from IONA” pg 68)
Canon Mark Long
Wednesday in Holy Week
The third Servant Song (Isaiah 50:4-9a)
“The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. … It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me.
Who will condemn me?” (Isaiah 50:4, 9a TNIV)
Who will condemn me?” (Isaiah 50:4, 9a TNIV)
There is purpose in God’s instruction: Isaiah says that it is to sustain the weary. Living life is not easy, living life well – morally, ethically – is hard. Being loving, compassionate, caring in a sustained manner is almost impossible (just ask your spouse, child or a good friend, if you think I’m wrong!). Life is tough – in many and varied ways. My wife, Dawn, says life would be much easier if we were informed of this at birth, then when life is truly good and abundant we would celebrate, and when it is tough (which it is most of the time) we would accept this as normal and get on with it, and live it well. Scripture is a very powerful reminder: God’s word does sustain us, encourage us, give us the strength to stand up and walk again, journey again.
What sort of time do you give God to speak to you: does he wake you morning by morning? Whose is the instructed tongue that sustains you – Isaiah, the Psalmist, a Gospel writer? We know that in our physical lives we need food and liquid; the same is true of our spiritual lives – they are less tangible, but there none-the-less. What feeds you spiritually? – because if it is not Scripture then it will be something else: perhaps the media, and what kind of ethics does Hollywood purvey? In interacting with young people I often point out that what “Soapies” and “Movies” say about relationships is have sex, and if the sex is good begin a friendship; Scripture says, build a friendship, and if the friendship is good get married and celebrate the joy of your friendship sexually. Quite a difference? What feeds your soul?
Pray for the grace to take risks, … to trust God’s promise. Pray for the humility to know that one person’s extravagance may be another’s sacrificial gift, another’s wisdom. Pray for the grace to believe that security lies not in stocks and bonds and bank balances, but in the God who responds to a generous spirit. Amen
(Prayer by Anna Briggs in “Lent & Easter Readings from IONA” pg 71)
Canon Mark Long
The ministry given by the Spirit of the Lord (Isaiah 61:1-9)
“They will be called mighty oaks, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God” (Isaiah 61:3b-6a TNIV).
As God’s children we are all gifted by God for ministry. Isaiah reminds us that an important part of our ministry is to rebuild and to restore that which has been devastated. It is a call to serve a broken and hurting society. Serving is not something most of us find easy – mostly we prefer to be served, especially if we are South African and male. But ministry is a call to serve, to humble ourselves and see to the needs of others before we see to our own. This does not require us to be door-mats, and to ignore our own needs; it is rather a call to compassionate and caring living.
To truly be able to serve we need be confident – confident in our calling, in our identity; we need to know where we have come from; we need to know where we are going. We need to have vision, we need to be clear about our mission, we need to know who we are, we need to understand our context. What gives Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, the ability to put aside the powerful call of his humanity to run from the suffering that lies ahead, and submit to the call of the Father on his life? At this point he is clear on the call that lies burdensomely on his shoulders, he knows who is, he knows where he has come from and where he is going, and he has the strength to say to the Father, “Your will be done!”
Do you have a vision for your life? Do you know God’s purpose for you? And are you journeying in relationship with God through the Scriptures? Are you in relationship with others on this same journey, or do you journey alone?
Jesus, our brother, once you knelt sleepless in the darkness of a garden, alone, and wept and prayed, sweating, bleeding, with the pain of powerlessness, with the strain of waiting. An angel offered you strength – but it was a bitter cup.
We pray for all who wake tonight, waiting, agonising, anxious and afraid, while others sleep: for those who sweat and bleed, and weep alone. If it is not possible for their cup to be taken away – then may they know your presence kneeling at their side. Amen
(Prayer by Jan Sutch Pickard in “Lent & Easter Readings from IONA” pg 81)
Canon Mark Long
The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)
“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted” (Isaiah 52:13 TNIV).
The above verse from Isaiah is in many senses “Glorious”. Who would not want to be wise, to be acknowledged and exalted by others? Many of us long for this kind of recognition. However, as we read on into Isaiah 53 we understand fast that there is another meaning, another sort of “lifting up” meant here. Jesus’ wisdom has led him, on a civil level, into conflict with the Jewish authorities of his day, and on a spiritual level into conflict with all that stands against goodness and holiness. At our Baptism we reject spiritual, material and personal evil – it is evil in this multiple form that raises Jesus up, lifts him high on the cross of pain, suffering and death.
For the disciples there is a hopelessness to this picture, and last night they have run, fearing for their lives, their hopes and dreams battered and almost broken. As some creep back today, join the crowd at Pilate’s Palace, quietly follow at a distance as Jesus, with help, carries a part of the cross to Golgotha, and watch Jesus – already scourged – nailed painfully to the cross and “lifted up”, their hopes and dreams are shattered. Where is the goodness of Good Friday in this image?
Today we journey with Jesus through his final suffering, through the political expedience of his trial and condemnation. We experience – together with his mother Mary, some of the women who followed him, and John – the pain of watching him suffer the final agony of suffocation. As he breathes his last and dies, we are crushed and overcome with grief: for his death and for our broken dreams. But we are also struck, as we reflect, that he held no bitterness, no need for revenge; that he thought of others, of his mother whom he gave into John’s care, of his executioners and asked the Father to forgive them. This is different. What have we seen? What have we experienced? What does it mean for our lives?
God who knows my frailties, forgive my self-doubt and uncertainty when I am content from a distance to watch others’ pain. God who calls my name, even when I am reluctant, forgive my resistance and my fear of being overwhelmed by the task you compel me to take on. God who offers me the cross, a burden too great for me to carry, help me be a willing participant on a journey I can neither understand nor change. God who believes in me, help me to go on believing that you take the little I have offered and use it to make a difference. God who knows me and calls me, who burdens me and believes in me, help me to hear your voice of thanks, and be ready to serve again. Amen
(Prayer by Tom Gordon in “Lent & Easter Readings from IONA” pg 93)
Canon Mark Long
The Easter Proclamation (An Anglican Prayer Book 1989 pg 204-206)
“Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God’s throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!” (APB pg 205)
Holy Saturday is a day of waiting and preparation. Traditionally, our worship space is cleaned and scrubbed, flowers are arranged, the altar is draped in glorious gold, new candles are brought out and an Easter Fire is prepared. We are waiting and preparing for resurrection. Sometime between sunset tonight and sunrise tomorrow this great event will take place, and we will be called to rejoice, sing, and exalt.
At the time of Jesus death, Holy Saturday was a day of grief and loss and separation, and Easter Sunday a day of chaos and uncertainty, all focused around the Sabbath: a day that calls for rest, for recreation, for reflection. And so today is an opportunity in the midst of our preparations to reflect. How has this Lent been for you? What have you experienced? How have you grown? What have you heard God saying? What is God calling you to? What dreams have been crushed? What hopes have been renewed?
Do you see Jesus differently now that you have walked this journey? Do you see yourself differently; the people around you differently? And if so, why? And if not, why? What resurrection in the breadth of your life and your relationships will you celebrate tomorrow?
Yesterday, our hopes and dreams were shattered; tomorrow they will be renewed! Let us rest today, and prepare …
God of all creation – who cannot be contained by our boundaries or our definitions – light from beyond galaxies, sea without a farther shore; you are present in every distinct place, in every moment in history. You are here and now. Help us to understand that those from whom we are separated in life by distance, by sea and land; those from whom we are separated by difference, by prejudice, by language, by lack of communication; and those from whom we are separated in death. By its long silence, its aching absence – are each of them in your presence; that beyond our horizons, beyond our boundaries, beyond our understanding, they are in your embrace. Amen.
(Prayer by Jan Sutch Pickard in “Lent & Easter Readings from IONA” pg 104)
Canon Mark Long