You had to be there…


Words for Palm Sunday 2018 – St Mary’s Whitkirk

At the end of a family walking holiday in Wales we gathered around the kitchen table for our final evening meal. The room was warmed by an Aga, and since this was Wales, filled with the aroma of waterproofs, shoes and boots drying after a wet week.

My Mum, putting yoghurts, biscuits…the remains of a cake on the table, repeated our usual last meal of the holiday mantra…”eat up – everything must go.”

“I pity the person who has to eat my trainers”, retorted my Dad.

Well you managed a polite laugh…

…we, especially our young children, were almost in hysterics. For weeks afterwards they would tell the story, expecting people to find it as funny as they did.

Have you ever done that? Recounted something that was hilarious at the time…only to end rather lamely…”you had to be there.”

“You had to be there”…words that could be applied to the events of this week. After all, Thomas, who’d been there for most of Jesus’ story, couldn’t believe his closest friends had met the risen Christ…because he wasn’t there.

Thomas got another chance…what about us? Wouldn’t faith be easier if we’d actually been there?

The good news is that we can be there. The church has given us ways not just to remember, but to enter into the events of Holy Week. It’s called anamnesis. The word doesn’t matter – but its meaning does. It means remembering in such a way that events of the past are made present for us today. It’s a kind of ‘active remembering’ where we don’t just observe the mystery – we become part of it.

Every Eucharist is active remembering. On Monday to Wednesday we will share the Eucharist and hear again the story of Jesus’ last week.

On Thursday we share Jesus’ final evening with his friends. We share in foot washing – and try to grasp what it means for us. We share the very foundation of the Eucharist. Afterwards the sanctuary is stripped…the church is left bare apart from candles and a ‘garden’ in the chapel where the reserved sacrament is placed – and we are invited to watch with Jesus in Gethsemane.

On Friday, in a bare church resembling a tomb, we contemplate the cross; we try to share Christ’s final hours; we leave in silence. On Saturday we wait…

I’ve done my best to describe it – but I don’t have the words. I remember the first time as a teenager I attended all the services of Holy Week. That year I finally began to ‘get’ Easter.

Until then it was a happy ending to a story I’d heard, much less real than Christmas. I’d seen the joy around me on Easter morning, I’d even asked someone to explain – they did their best, but I think they really wanted to say “you had to be there.”

So I invite you all to ‘be there’ this Holy Week and maybe arrive on Easter Sunday knowing you’ve encountered something to transform your life.

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