Entering Holy Week

blurred Jesus

This weekend we join Christians around the world in entering into Holy Week. In our liturgies on Saturday and Sunday we will, through words, music and movement, follow Jesus from his triumphal entry into the holy city Jerusalem to the suffering of the cross. The change in mood will be stark, the emotion jarring. We are called to follow, to experience the cross. Throughout Holy Week we are also called to enter into the story. We will do this through the Stations of the Cross, foot washing, stripping the altar and solemn Good Friday prayer.

The Passion stories of the Gospels, and in particular this year’s account from Luke, are full of emotion. The story is raw, filled with betrayal, doubt, desperation, injustice and cowardice. They are more than anything else, dramatically human. But as I read and reread Luke’s story I am struck with one question. This question paralyzes me. It makes me want look away, to not see what is happening to Jesus. That questions is why. Why does Jesus have to die? Why is the system so bent on silencing him? Why does Jesus go so willingly? Why do the disciples, his friends, forsake him? Why? Why? Why?

Much ink, and no small amount of blood has been spilled, trying to answer this why question. Some scholars have written at great length of the death of Jesus as sacrifice. Still others have written as Jesus as the great moral exemplar. Most in the very early church saw Jesus’ death on the cross as a victory over the devil. The gospels themselves, though, say very little about the theological significance of Jesus’ death. Jesus himself also says next to nothing about why he must die. I think the reason for this is that the mystery of the cross, the multi layered meaning of the cross, dare I say the scandal and the horror of the cross is just too much to be explained in any one theory. The cross is a mystery to be entered into, to be experienced, not simply something to be explained. More on that later.

If you read carefully the story that Luke weaves (and you can read the whole passion story here), he does have Jesus give us a hint as to why this is happening.

“Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

For you. Jesus tells his disciples that his death, his broken body and spilled blood is for them. This too is a mystery too deep to fathom and raises more questions than it answers. But for now it is enough to say that in the cross, in the suffering and death of Jesus we see love as God gives God’s life, for us. God takes our biggest fear, death, and lays it bare. In Jesus God shows us the truly difficult way of love, forgiveness and acceptance. In the cross we see that God is for us, always for us, and not against us.

Which leads me to another question that I eluded to earlier regarding experiencing the cross. Can I follow? Now I don’t mean literally. I don’t expect us to go out and get crucified, or lethally injected, which would be the modern equivalent. But if Jesus is showing us something of love, something of what it looks like and what it cost, I have to ask: can I follow? Can we follow? Sara Miles says it’s as if in the cross “Jesus says: this is how you do it.” This is how you love. This is how you serve. This is how you follow me. Can we do it? Can we pick up our cross and follow?

The answer I believe is yes. Yes we will fall. Yes we will doubt. Yes, like the disciples we will run away, and abandon. But like Jesus we will love; like Jesus we will forgive; like Jesus we will care. We will do it because he has shown us how. We will do it as we love each other. We will do it as we welcome the stranger, whether they be from Syria, Eritrea or down the street. We will do it as we work for equality and justice for our LGBT brothers and sisters. We will do it as we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the sick and lonely, and care for all prisoners.

So this week let the story of the cross become our story. Don’t look away but enter in. Experience the great emptying of God. Feel the darkness and the earth fracture beneath our feet. Then, ever so gently, pick up our crosses and follow him.

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Audrey Power: This is My Story

audrey&maatouks

My faith journey began on rather shaky legs. My parents were Anglican, but not actively religious so God was not a big part of my childhood. Like my parents, I spent long stretches away from the church, being drawn back for significant life events – confirmations, marriages, births, deaths. As a teen, I found myself questioning who I was, what I believed. I had watched people find strength and comfort in God, blame God for everything bad, and be indifferent to God’s existence. In university, I never found any answers but I learned it was okay to question and seek greater understanding as we traveled.

Both my marriage and my son’s baptism had me take a serious look at where the church and faith fit into my life. I realized I did believe in God, I just didn’t know what that meant. More importantly, I believed in Christ’s teachings to love God and to love one another. If I could just figure out how to follow Jesus in the world we lived in.

Life moved on, and the world showed how ugly it could be – recessions, Chernobyl, genocides, the Gulf War, Los Angeles Riots, Israel/Palestine conflict, 9/11, natural disasters. It seemed different forms of discrimination and hatred increased even as people helped those in need. On a personal level, there were several significant family sicknesses, traumas, and deaths that left me battered. It was impossible not to question God’s presence.

I had begun an on-again off-again relationship with St. Mark’s as my son grew and was confirmed here. I found the welcoming acceptance and friendship offered to all and the many outreach ministries spoke to me of Christ’s command to love our neighbour as ourselves. I began attending services more regularly. Surprisingly for me, I found myself drawn more into parish life – bible study, prayer writing group, Pub Theology. With an open heart and mind, I searched to discover how Christ’s teachings applied in the context of today’s world. I came to believe that the Spirit could lead us to different answers, and we had to respect diversity and accept all people with a good heart.

Last fall, as the pictures of Alan Kurdi made the Syrian Refugee crisis unbearably human, the people of St. Mark’s came together to sponsor a family. It felt so right to join the Refugee Transition Team, to reach out and make a difference to a family. The Advent messages of hope, love, joy, and peace enriched all our preparations – it was deeply moving.

And then we got the call – the Maatouk family would arrive in three days, Dec. 19! The outpouring of generosity, thoughtfulness, love and help from our parish family still brings tears to my eyes. We were truly blessed as we scurried and put a wonderful home together in just two days! As we welcomed them and showed them their new home, I watched their faces light up with happiness and relief, and the children began to laugh and play. They were tired and unsure but their appreciation and hope shone in their eyes. Here was the meaning of Christmas, to give of yourself to those in need, to give them hope. It is indeed the greatest gift of all.

As we celebrated the birth of the Christ child to Mary and Joseph on Christmas, I thought about the wonderful gift God had given this needy world, and the many parallels to this family.

Since then, there continues to be lots of work for our transition team to help them settle and get on their feet. They left their home, everything they had, everything and everyone they knew, out of fear, to come to a strange land in search of safety. As I get to know Mounzer, Alaa, Mohamad, Kater al Nada, and Ahmad, I see the love in this Muslim family. I see children so like children everywhere. I see my neigbours. Learning just a little of what they have been through, I wonder if I could still smile, love, and trust, as they do. We have become friends. They share with me their dreams and hopes for a better life for their family. I know I have a small part in helping them on their journey.

As I help the Maatouks adjust to life in St. John’s, they ask me why we help people, Muslims, whom we don’t know. I answer because it is the right thing to do, because God teaches us to love and help all people. Here, I know I do Christ’s work as I share God’s love with these people, my neighbours.

Of everything I have seen, heard, considered, experienced, rejected, accepted… for me helping the Maatouks embodies what it is to be a Christian in today’s world. This is the message I hear in Christ’s teachings. I believe every time we reach out our hand to someone in need – to show compassion, acceptance and love, every act of kindness, large or small – God is with us, around us, present in us. Finally I know how to follow Jesus in today’s world.

 

Rosalind Bartlett: This is My Story

Hong

Our faith journeys are collections of stories, moments and relationships. Each of these is a grace, a gift from God. This week Rosalind Bartlett shares one such grace of a special relationship in our St. Mark’s Choir. There’s more good things happening in our choir besides singing; there’s friendship, faith and love.

I believe that our triune God is a God of love and relationship. We are not meant to live in isolation, but in community with God and with each other, caring for and encouraging one another. This is a story about relationship.

St. Mark’s has had a longstanding connection with the Association for New Canadians providing gift hampers at Christmas time for new Canadian families and individuals. About four years ago, we asked the ANC if we could do more. What was their greatest need? Their answer was, “a sense of community.” In response we offered St. Mark’s as the venue for bi-monthly cooking classes for the ANC Women’s group. Volunteers from the parish, the ANC and the MUN Medical school offer an evening of cooking, eating, healthy living lessons and fun.

On such an evening I was chatting to a young woman from China who had studied at MUN, married a Newfoundlander and was working in St. John’s. Jie told me that her parents had moved here only six months before. She didn’t realize she was talking to the St. Mark’s choir director as she described how her Mom, an award winning choir director in China, was missing music terribly. I was introduced to Hong, gave them the music our choir was learning and invited them to sit in on our Tuesday night rehearsals. Sure enough, they arrived the following Tuesday and wonderful new relationships began.

A few days after that rehearsal, I received a very moving email from Jie. She said that as a child she hadn’t really gotten to know her parents well because she was in boarding school, then at University and finally had moved to Canada. Jie wrote that after our choir rehearsal her mother had said to her, “Now that you know the beauty of music, I will teach you to sing.” “This,” Jie said, “has become a precious mother-daughter bonding time for us.”

Jie and Hong continued to attend choir practice until Jie’s husband became seriously ill. When Alan died several months later, Jie contacted the choir and it was our privilege to sing at his funeral.

Now, Jie and Hong are an important part of our choir. Jie sings alto and Hong sings soprano. They continue to take their music home to practise and if they are absent from rehearsals we miss them. Hong’s English is improving, in part because of reading the music, and she teasingly calls us her teachers.

I believe that, if we allow it, God works through our ordinary lives in our small kindnesses and gestures of empathy and compassion. We are here to learn how to love and in giving ourselves to others we receive grace upon grace. St. Mark’s choir has been made richer by embracing Jie and Hong. It has always been and will continue to be about love.

Rosalind Bartlett is our Choir Director and Rector’s Warden. Rosalind is also actively involved with the St. Mark’s ministry with the Association for New Canadians Women’s Group. The only things sweeter than Rosalind’s singing voice is her warm smile and gentle demeanour. At St. Mark’s we believe that we have the best choir. Don’t believe us? Come check them out at 10:30 am worship on Sunday. Pictured above is Rosalind and Hong