All you who pass this way, look and see: is any sorrow like the sorrow that afflicts me.
No sorrow is too great for me to bear.
He has made a yoke for me and encircled my head with weariness.
No yoke is too heavy.
He was blocked my way with cut stones, he has made my path crooked.
I will walk the path for you.
Palm Sunday has something of a bittersweet feel about it in terms of liturgy and the sentiment that is expressed through words and gesture. I always find it difficult to enter into the scene by actually waving my palm branch. Is this natural reserve, or is there something different going on?
This evening in our Vigil service we will listen to part of a sermon by St Andrew of Crete, an 8th century bishop. I have always found this a helpful text at the beginning of Holy Week and I think his approach goes some way to helping me find a point of entry into the Palm Sunday liturgy.
Come then, let us run with him as he presses on to his passion. Let us imitate those who have gone out to meet him, not scattering olive branches or garments or palms in his path, but spreading ourselves before him as best we can, with humility of soul and upright purpose. So we may welcome the Word as he comes, so may God who cannot be contained within any bounds, be contained within us.
So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ- ‘for as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ’- so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet.
Not only is this invitation poignant at the beginning of Holy Week, but it also encapsulates something of the monastic journey.
A View of Lazarus
See he is coming from the tomb. His eyes
Need shelter from the light. We crowd and press
Towards him, some say nothing. One or two
Whisper. Others look afraid but stare,
Most turn their eyes away. Such a strange
Light is coming from behind the man
Brought back from death and coughing in the breeze.
One by one his senses set to work
To ease this man to us. A look of loss
Shows on his features but he does not speak.
Some begin to question him about
What dying felt like and how he did break
Back to us. He can relive our doubt,
But he seems dumb and we don’t want to make
His rising difficult although we long
To look back at the glimmering kingdom he
Has left, if Paradise is there
But is not for the snatching. Lazarus now
Opens his eyes and it’s at us he stares
As if we all were strangers. Then it’s odd,
But we feel we should stop talking. Lazarus is,
Yes no doubt of it, now shedding tears,
And whispering quietly, God, O no, dear God.
I found this poem some years ago and made a photocopy of it. Unfortunately I didn’t write down the author and now it’s haunting me. I thought it was Elizabeth Jennings, but I can’t see it listed amongst her poems. Does anyone know who wrote it?
Thanks to Tess for researching this. My hunch was right, it is Elizabeth Jennings
Each year I am struck by the wealth of images that we are offered through the liturgy in Lent. I am always glad that I have 6 weeks in which to explore and ponder. It’s tempting to try to engage with every piece of text that I am offered; I can never really manage this. Inevitably, I need to narrow my focus and decide where my energies will go. This year, despite the pull of the Book of Exodus which we hear at Office of Readings, I am drawn to the Gospel passage for each day.
Which images strike you this Lent? Which texts take your attention?
There is something wonderful when liturgy and environment join together, making both stand out as something special, unique and deeply meaning ‘full.’ Every day the sun rises and every year we have the feast of the Presentation. The sun rises with all its resurrection resonance, the feast of the Presentation is celebrated with its resonance of end things, hopes fulfilled.
When my inner space is longing for those same resonances, with the chance, with just the chance, that long born sorrow and frustration, the product of my own and of all human frailty and sinfulness, may come to some sort of resurrection, then God can slip in, or maybe reveal that God’s work in me has already begun, in silence and secret, in my heart and will, yes, and in my flesh.
This morning at Lauds the sun rose with full colour luminosity as we sang the Benedictus, blessed be the Lord the God of Israel, he has visited his people and redeemed them.
Image © Turvey Abbey