A few years ago I was converted to the idea of Holy Week – I wrote of it here and here. This year’s Holy Week has been interesting so far. The diary blocked out, fixed events and appointments banned, I found time to wander off to Abu Dhabi to visit a few folk I’d wanted to call in on for ages – some pictured here. We’ve been having an interesting series of services too each evening where I’ve been accusing my congregation of being thieves – and none of them have denied it! Having had my trusty helpers Kent (our ordinand) and Charlie (our Reader) assisting in allowing time to brainstorm ideas and arrange practicalities together, I’ve got myself 140 metres of metal car park chain – I’ve never arrested an entire congregation before but think it will be enough. Don’t tell them, but I plan to do it tomorrow on Good Friday. Thieves, the lot of them. I expect someone will set the blackguards free though. Jesus Christ. Cuh!
Of course there is the Maundy Thursday service still to go tonight and then of course the big day, Easter Day – service times here. If you’ve got something to hide, I won’t be arresting anyone on Easter Day so you’ll be safe then. Come to church. You need some good news.
I’ve always enjoyed doing something a little unexpected but sometimes it takes a while for plans to come to fruition. God takes his time sometimes in getting on with something - hundreds of years to decide what to do about Israel’s failure, but then He did something unexpected that first Easter Day - quite a lot more unexpected than we have managed, and His event will have an impact infinitely more wonderful than what we’ve ever done. But with God setting such a precedent it seems only fitting to do something surprising to celebrate Easter and so we did it.
I first heard The Easter Song (by Glad) years ago at university and loved it, but more recently, a few years ago, I heard it again and thought “hmmmm, I’d like to do a flash dance to that” (they hadn’t been thought of when I was at university). It seemed that an Easter Day service would be a good time. And this year’s Easter blessing was the moment! The video does not carry the surprise of the congregation – you really should have been there!
Still, it’s never too late to celebrate – come every Friday at 9.30am or Sunday at 7.30pm
Alleluia, The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Last year we had the Bishop here and he led us each evening of Holy Week in a series of reflections. It was the first time I’d had a Holy Week in the way I’d set the whole week apart rather than just half that week - you can see what was going through my mind here (http://christchurchjebelali.com/holy-week/). I found it such a rich experience that I decided to do the same thing this year.
It’s been a menace again for those who see an Easter break as simply a holiday, but I find my heart drawn closer to God the nearer I get to it – it’s a special time, like a holiday yes, but specifically with God. I am used to going away for retreats, for special times to be with God, but this is a special time with God with my Christian family in my normal office/work environment and my normal gathering place. Normally I travel to meet him, but in Holy Week he comes to my place. (Need I show how God in Christ comes to us more deeply even than this?).
And so I invite you to join me in a Holy Week. Do come for the services of course, and add more: find a way at home and at work to make it somehow a week set apart from all other weeks.
30th March: 9.30am Palm Friday
1st April: 7.30pm Palm Sunday
2nd April: 7.30pm Tenebrae – Hall 5
3rd April: 7.30pm Taize Night – Hall 6
4th April: 7.30pm Stations of the Cross – Hall 6
5th April: 7.30pm Maundy Thursday
6th April: 9.30am Good Friday
8th April: Easter Day
- 4.30am Meditation – The Watch
- 5.30am Early Service
- 9.30am if you missed the early rise
- 7.30pm for the late crowd
…I’m not sure how I would react to being told this news for the first time all those years ago. I’d have seen Lazarus raised from the dead a little time before I suppose and so know that Jesus was something special. But I’d have also seen Jesus die on the cross and I’m not altogether sure which side of the crowd I’d have been on that day – cheering him on or jeering him off. Really not sure. As a disciple I’d have been gutted of course, and having seen where he was laid to rest, be all the more doubtful about his being risen. Full of grief perhaps for my failure to support him, full of grief for all those misunderstandings and ideals that simply were not the point that Jesus had been making, full of grief for having been so sure that Jesus was the one to save us, but now smashed. How could I believe what the first visitors to the tomb were proclaiming?!
‘Alleluia! Christ is risen!’ they say, and we respond so easily and with Easter joy, ‘He is risen indeed. Alleluia!’
…but I can’t imagine their feelings were so instantly positive. The grief they experienced was a good grief inasmuch as they needed to let go of so much failure and misunderstanding before they could take on board the good news. On Good Friday they thought they were letting go of their hopes and dreams as well as Jesus, but on Easter Day they had to come to terms with the thought that although they might not have to let go of Jesus, they did need to let go of the old hopes and dreams because Jesus was completely reinterpreting them. Jesus wasn’t smashing the Roman domination of their land, he was smashing Sin’s domination of our souls and bodies; He wasn’t making Israel the glorious ‘top nation’, he was bringing the victory of God’s kingdom on earth (where Death ruled) to be as full as it was in heaven; he wasn’t giving them all the top seats in the Ruler’s Court, he was giving them place at the Father’s side.
We might lament when our dreams are smashed, but to be forced to give up dreams that are not God’s intention and to work through that is a good grief!
It’s Palm Sunday! Or Palm Friday here in the UAE. It’s something I’ve never really been able to accept. When I first came to the UAE I refused to do Palm Sunday on the Friday before because it’s such an important week that I wanted to keep the days with the rest of the world who celebrate it on the Sunday. I quickly realised that I was being a pain in the neck for all those families that I loved having in our congregation who couldn’t make it – Sunday’s a normal work day, and the evening’s too late for the kids. When I saw that everyone else was processing round their churches on a Friday I followed suit. I’m a humble guy after all and can take a hint sometimes.
But Good Friday, that’s different – we don’t celebrate Easter Day on the Friday before, but make an exception for that Sunday. You should come to it – both Friday and Sunday that week as they make a pair as it were. We have a service on Easter Day at 5.30am for those who could not get a day off work, a service at 9.30am for those who took the day or at least morning off work in honour of the wondrous intervention of God that day, and 7.30pm for those who’s alarm’s didn’t go off (they always book evening flights home too, just in case – LOL .
Anyway, Palm Sunday. Or Palm Friday. Did you forget to bring a palm branch again?!!! I KNEW IT! Lucky I cut a nice big one from my garden – poor tree – to supply all you guys. Did none of your friends have a branch you could borrow? Even a bit of Bougainvillea would have been fine. But no, you didn’t. You know I know who you are because I saw you here at church. You feel gutted now. You think you almost might come to church every night this week to hear our bishop teach each evening (it’s 7.30pm Sunday to Thursday) to make it up to me and my tree.
You’ve had a preview of how the disciples felt next Friday morning. You failed. God, who’d have you?! God, he’d have you! He really would. He was so keen to have you that he climbed all the way to Hades and back to come and get you.
Come on Good Friday (22nd at 9.30am) and Easter Day (see above) – they make a pair – and find out more.