Every ten years in the Bavarian village of Oberammergau, they hold the world-famous Passion Play. One of the most famous actors who portrayed Christ was Anton Lang. And there’s a story of how one day, after a performance, 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 the 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 to live this Holy Week. But during this particular Lent, which we have all had to bear, continues to be very, very heavy. In the midst of this pandemic, isolation, anxiety, sickness, bereavement, have already weighed heavily on all of us.
So how might we, on this Palm Sunday, prepare ourselves for this Holy Week, a Holy Week perhaps like no other we have ever experienced? With our churches closed, most of us will not be able to physically be present to share in the wonderful, transformative liturgies of this week, which each year are such a source of spiritual sustenance. We may, thanks to modern technology be able to see or hear, live or recorded acts of worship during this week on our screens at home. We feel particularly blessed that the diocese is transmitting the liturgy from this chapel on Maundy Thursday, and that we are also live streaming our service of Tenebrae on Wednesday evening.
But of course, it’s not the same, not the same as being there, with others. So how might we, on this Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, how might we ‘feel the weight of the cross’, understand a little more of the immensity of God’s sacrifice for us, the immensity of God’s love for us?
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 in 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. So, as we approach this Holy Week, find one small part of this week which seems most inviting, and focus on that in your prayers. 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. ‘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 you may be drawn to Jesus in Gethsemane. ‘I am deeply grieved unto death. ‘Share your own grief and fears right now with him, and ask for his strength and courage. Or maybe you are drawn to the image of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. ‘Lord, I long for your touch, wash me, heal me, restore me to wholeness of life.’ Perhaps on Good Friday, as you gaze at the cross, you may express your longing to be forgiven and set free, or simply to lay your fears and burdens at the foot of the cross, and let them go. Perhaps I want to rediscover joy, or hope, and long for the bursting forth of Easter in my own life or the life of a loved one.
Ask yourself what it is 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’, and to fill our cup till it overflows with his mercies. In the midst of our fears and uncertainties, let us walk the way of the cross with Jesus, 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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