One of the most famous of the actors who portrayed Christ was Anton Lang. One day, following one of the performances, a tourist and his wife went back stage to meet the actors. After taking Lang’s picture, the man noticed the great cross that the actor had carried during the performance. He said to his wife, “Here, take the camera and I’ll lift the cross on my shoulder, and then snap my picture.” Before Lang could say anything the tourist had stooped down to lift the prop to his shoulder. He couldn’t budge it. The cross was made with solid oak beams. In amazement the man turned to Lang and said, “I thought it would be hollow and light. Why do you carry a cross which is so terribly heavy?” The actor replied, “Sir, if I did not feel the weight of his cross, I could not play his part.”
To feel the weight of the cross is what we have been doing in different ways during this season of Lent, and what we are about to do in a focused and intentional way as we begin today to live this Holy Week. During this week, as we gather for worship, as we fast, as we pray and meditate on the life-giving events of these last days of our Lord’s life, we try to enter imaginatively into the story of Christ’s passion, to try, each one of us, to feel the weight of the cross, to understand a little of the immensity of God’s sacrifice for us, and the immensity of God’s love for us.
Today it all begins: Palm Sunday. We have walked with Jesus into Jerusalem, singing our Hosannas. But now, everything has changed. The Sunday of Palms is now the Sunday of the Passion. We have just heard Luke’s account of what they did to Jesus after he had entered the holy city. This reading of the passion narrative, on this Sunday, acts as a kind of overture to the whole week which lies ahead.
A series of snapshots, of images, which over the years, have been seared into our memories and imaginations. The last Supper, the garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal by Judas, Peter’s denial, Jesus before Pilate and before Herod. The crowds baying for blood, ”Crucify him!’ Walking the Way of the Cross, the crucifixion, the three crosses, a criminal on either side. Jesus dies, his dead body taken down from the cross. Jesus in the arms of his mother, his dead body lain in the rock-hewn tomb. Then the Sabbath, when they all rested; the silence.
The overture is set before us today, and in the days ahead we shall reflect in depth on each part of the story, so that we too may feel the weight of the cross, to hear again and to experience again and know again, just how much God has sacrificed for me, and just how much God loves me.
The great spiritual writer, Ida Goerres wrote that coming to Holy Week was like approaching a great waterfall; like approaching a great waterfall with an empty cup in your hand that you long to fill up with water. If you put the cup right into the middle it will likely be dashed away. It is better, she says, to aim for one small part of the waterfall, perhaps on the edge, one particular trickle of water, and fill up your cup there.
And so, as we approach this Holy Week I invite you to find one part of this week which seems most inviting. Perhaps be guided by your thirst. Where is my deepest need right now; where is my deepest thirst? Name it, and offer that need, that thirst to God. Bring that particular, specific intention before God for this Holy Week. Lord, during this week, as I pray with and share in the events of your passion, this is my need, this is what I deeply desire.
Perhaps on Maundy Thursday, I long to be fed by your body and blood, I long for you to wash my feet, to bring healing to me in a particular way. On Good Friday, I long to be forgiven and set free. Or my intention is to lay these burdens at the foot of the cross. Or I want to rediscover joy, and long for the bursting forth of Easter into my own life. Ask yourself what you most need and desire, and thirst for, and hold out your cup to be filled by the Lord.
Today it all begins: Holy Week, and God’s great work of salvation. Let us ask God to bless us all on the journey, to give us grace to “feel the weight of the cross” as we follow Jesus along the Via Crucis.
But let us walk the way with hope and trust in our hearts, for we know and rejoice that the weight of the cross will become the weight of glory. That as today’s collect puts it: we who walk in the way of suffering, will also share in his resurrection.
Let us begin the journey of Holy Week with these words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who in the darkest of days wrote
I know that goodness is stronger than evil.
That love is stronger than hate.
That light is stronger than darkness.
That life is stronger than death.
That Victory is ours through him who loves us.
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