Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Holy Week Meditation - On the Margin (1)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ 

Facing his impending death, Jesus goes back to the place where Resurrection has been foretold, to spend time perhaps with his friends

Yesterday we left Jesus, surveying the Temple and then leaving for Bethany,
as it was already late . . .

Holy Week is bookended by two phrases - ‘it was already late’ . . . and ‘Early, on the first day of the week’. It is clear that this is a time of transition, of change, of movement, on the edge of something, we are not in the thick of Life but on the edge of it, ‘On the Margins’.

One of the privileges of priestly ministry is to accompany people through their own Holy weeks, the whole business of ‘Dying’.
    I had a very dear friend who was a priest and died from a brain tumour. In her last days as is so often the case on this Margin, we saw something very special. As she drifted in and out of consciousness it was clear that she knew where she was, on the bank of a river, and her priestly ministry continued as she was obviously helping others to make the transition.

But this Dying is not necessarily physical, indeed the gracious invitation of Jesus is to die before we die, so to speak, to understand that our physical deaths are only the Secondary deaths, that there is a Far more significant death that Must happen.

    And the work of the priest is to accompany many in this regard. It is a work that must be done in all of us and that when we understand it, we might all participate in - we too might learn to stand at the shore and encourage others to cross over. In a Real sense, it is the work of accompanying someone through their Conversion, from a life where they are at the centre, to one where they are at the edge (and discover that Life had always been there and that that which they called life was no life at all.)

Life is Always to be found at the edge. Paradoxically, Christ, although as he rides into Jerusalem appear to be the centre of everything, is in the hearts and minds of the people on the edge of - they will readily expel him into the wilderness from the edge of the camp. His Place, His Throne is beyond the City walls. The Temple is Not in the heart of the city, it is not in the city at all - this is a discovery we all need to make - it is the beginning of Our conversion

The Carmelite nun Ruth Burrows speaks of this Conversion in her book, “to believe in Jesus”

“We live in a cave. The cave is so vast and we are so small that we cannot perceive it is a cave until we have grown in stature. It seems a limitless world, a most beautiful city full of good things, everything we need for our stimulation and growth. Here, it seems, is love and knowledge of god, here is wisdom, here true worship. The ensign of Jesus flies over its citadels. Christians recognise the ensign, they know the name of their king and wish to serve him. there is no need to question the raison d’ĂȘtre of this city; it seems to exist in its own right and needs no explanation apart from itself. How can there be anywhere else, except heaven when this mortal life is over?

In reality the cave does not exist for itself but exclusively for another world, the kingdom of god where even in this life he truly reigns over human hearts. Were it not so, were there no way out of it, it would be nothing but a great trap, a hideous mockery; we would be trapped for ever in our own limitations, our innate yearning for God thwarted for ever. Redemption means there is a way out. Jesus has made the way. He is the gate through which we pass, the way on which we walk and the goal of our journey. Everything God has provided for us in this cave-city is for one purpose only, to fit us for passing through that gate, out of the natural mode of existence which is ‘death’, into the life of God.

Although it does not seem like it, when we are in the cave, we are like Lazarus, dead in his tomb. Jesus calls us to come out. To be brought to life from this death is to begin to die mystically with Jesus, so as to rise with his life.”

Lent gets us ready for Easter, but actually that getting ready is just a preparation for the work of Holy week, it is a letting go of the little things in preparation for this work of dying. Having through Lent learned to deny ourselves through Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving we are truly ready to walk with Jesus to the Cross, unlike those first disciples - as I said yesterday “they melt away. Perhaps because they had heard but never understood what he meant when he said - ‘no one can be my disciple unless he gives up Everything he has - lets go of the world - no-one can be my disciple unless he hates his father and his mother, yes indeed life itself - whoever would become my disciple must take up his cross - whoever would gain his life must lose it’. Like the crowd they had an image of Jesus that didn’t fit with his words, [they were still in the Cave-city] -  [yet] now as they approach the end it becomes terrifyingly clear, he meant every word of it, to become obedient even unto the death of the cross.”

We are his disciples - in Holy week we see them disappear from Jesus presence. We symbolise this in Not spending the whole night on Thursday in prayer and Watch, but departing. But we have One advantage over them - we know how the story ends - thus if we have faith we need not flee form going with him, through the narrow gate - crossing over the Margin - through death to life

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