Frances’ thoughts for Holy Week and Easter :-
Easter Triduum 2014
The theme of the 3 days is Paradidomi – the handing over of Jesus.
Holy Thursday: Paradidomi Jesus gives himself over to the world.
Exodus 12:1-8; 11-14
The first, and for Jews the only Passover – anamnesis (being at that one original sacrifice). The perfect sheep or goat – ‘without blemish’. The animals handed over as sacrifice for the people and whose blood will mark their homes so that the destroying power of God will bypass the Israelite homes. This sacrifice then becomes their founding moment from which they are set free from slavery in Egypt to be the People of God.
The actions and imagery of this first sacrifice, the slaughter of the lambs will shape and model all Jewish practice and as the Passover sacrifice was celebrated by Jesus just before his passion would shape his understanding of his actions as Saviour of the world.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26.
The earliest written account of the Eucharist. ‘I received…and in turn passed on’. Paul became part of a community of anamnesis; of entering into the founding moment of Christian salvation. Whilst he was not there at Jesus’ Last Supper and the ‘handing-over’ that he enacted it is clear that for the earliest Christian communities in Palestine and Syria understood this and faithfully carried out Jesus’ instructions to meet him and be one with him precisely by repeating his words over the bread and wine.
‘This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial (anamnesis) of me….This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do it as a memorial (anamnesis) of me’. Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.
Christians were not therefore just remembering a passed event, nor simply informing others, they were there at the Passover with the Lord who literally handed-himself-over to the world, to his enemies for death and to his Church as the once, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. We do not call to mind a dead event, we are Passover people, remade and reshaped by the handing over of our Lord and Master. We are ‘made’ by his self-sacrifice, his being handed over.
But if we are to be those of the handed-over community, totally one with the Lord, how do we understand it?
In John’s gospel we experience his washing of the feet of his disciples precisely as a prelude to his being handed over to death. It was the job of the lowliest slave, the most marginalised in any household. Slaves had no rights, no choices. They could be bought and sold at the whim of their owners, physically and sexually abused at their whim and even killed without recourse to any justice. Jesus takes this role upon himself, a prefiguring of the helplessness which will be his during the grinding agony of his passion.
How do his followers react – it’s not a suitable task for their Master and Teacher; or then not just feet but their entire bodies: Peter representing the 12 totally fails to understand what Jesus is doing or what this implies for his followers. Above all, we note that Jesus also washed the feet of Iscariot, his betrayer.
We need to reflect on the actions of every Catholic priest, from the Pope down who washes feet on this night. It is an ungainly task, difficult for the old and wobbly, embarrassing for those whose feet are to be washed. It is traditional for the priests to kiss the washed feet. Let us meditate a while on that experience of humility for the priests and the experience of those washed. Very few grown adults now will be ministered to in this way. These are moments of extreme vulnerability. Those washed are also ‘given-over’ into the hands of others, like tiny children or the totally incapacitated they become fragile, vulnerable. This time must be for us all, as it was for Jesus a time of great vulnerability, when all our barriers are down. Like the slave, we have no means of hiding or protecting ourselves. We too are among those ‘paradidomi’ handed-over ones; it is a humbling time, as we are close to Jesus and called to enter into his passion and death in a way that is personal and profound.
Good Friday: Paradidomi, the Handing-over of Jesus to his Passion and Death.
As we read this passage with its searingly beautiful poetry and appalling imagery, originally referring to the suffering of exiled Israel and now used by the Church to image the suffering of Jesus we once more reflect on the meaning of his being handed-over: To abuse; to suffering; to be the sacrifice, the scapegoat for the sin of the world; we can with the crowds be appalled by what happened to him and we will be taken on his agonised journey which achieves our redemption.
It is a picture of suffering with which we are all now very familiar from our TV screens and is lived out daily in countries at war. The victim, here Christ will always be fragile, alone, and by the time the world has done its worst, without beauty, without majesty. So disfigured did he look that he seemed no longer human.
But we are people who like to control our own destinies – the idea that someone else and especially God the Son should do this for us and on our behalf is difficult for us. We don’t think that we actually need to be redeemed – surely our sins aren’t that significant? But Isaiah, writing for Israel 26 centuries ago did understand that we do in fact require someone, the perfect sacrifice to be handed-over, to stand-in for the failings of us all, of our world. On him lies a punishment that brings us peace…..
Just when we rightly despair that the world will ever get any better, we see in the final lines of our poem what the truth really is; what we cannot achieve, this Suffering Servant of God has gained for us. For surrendering himself to death and letting himself be taken for a sinner, while he was bearing the faults of many and praying all the time for sinners.
This message is surely echoed in our reading from Hebrews 4:14-16,
Paradidomi: The Passion of the Lord according to John.
Have you ever stopped to think what a contrast there is in this gospel passion between Jesus and the vast majority of the others who play a role in this great drama? The handed-over one, the one remember who in John’s gospel is the Word of God the Father, made flesh; the one responsible for the entire creation and the one who is himself One with the Father; utterly open to the mind of the Father, and whose heart and soul is totally transparent to God becomes the victim of human spite and aggression.
I am struck by the slow build up of petty abuse and cruelties: Judas’ betrayal; Peter’s futile attempt at defence; the fear of the soldiers rapidly followed by the slap in the face of one of the temple soldiers. We get the mean spirited denial of Peter. Then we meet the Jewish temple authorities with their refusal to enter the Praetorium – least they become defiled and ineligible to celebrate Passover. Well, we don’t want to be contaminated, do we! We get Pilate’s conviction that Jesus has no real case to answer and his three-fold declaration of his innocence only to be pushed aside when the Jewish authorities threaten to report him (well known as a corrupt official), to Caesar, at which point; to save his own miserable skin; this man, Rome’s representative and power in Palestine crumbles and allows Jesus to be crucified. Pilate, defeated but redolent with malice responds by getting the Jews to admit the power of Rome and renounce their ancient Davidic birthright, we have no king but Caesar, and he will rub in their ultimate dependency by refusing to alter the ironic inscription on the cross, The King of the Jews.
Cruelty is always like this, isn’t it? It begins with the minor slap that turns into full scale assault on a wife or child; the boys night out that ends with the drunken attack on an innocent bystander; war zones where the petty power of the soldier with the gun has the power to rape or kill at random; acts of violence undertaken in groups where no one takes responsibility and everyone is so easily led be it books burnings by the Nazis, the horrors of the Reformation or the Rwandan genocide. Those paradidomi, handed over into such hells have no voice, no one speaks for them.
In the end of course, the soldiers responsible for the crucifixion were ‘merely doing their duty’, faceless irresponsible, grey characters, their deed so awful, and here so briefly described nu John, they crucified him, a phrase encompassing excruciating pain and hours of slow agonising death. We note that the only loyal onlookers are women – of no importance and John, merely a kid, they didn’t count.
Then, the merciful and inevitable death; after which everyone can afford to be generous. Jews facing Preparation Day for Passover want things cleaned up; Pilate can grant the body to Joseph because it no longer matters; and our two, Joseph and Nicodemus; previously clandestine followers are given the dead body and can bury it in lavish style. Finally, buried with spices sufficient for the burial of a king, the King of the Universe gets his due. Finally he is handed over into the arms of his grieving mother and into the arms of God, the one who will recognise his perfect sacrifice.
Holy Saturday: paradidomi handed over to victory.
Genesis: 22:1-18 The ‘sacrifice of Isaac’.
We have to put aside all our modern notions to get under the skin of this story, which has a long history and many implications. Just think for a moment how significant Isaac was; the son in their old age given to the previously barren Sara and the legitimate son of Abraham. He was their posterity, the guarantee that Abraham’s blood line would go down through the ages. Remember, these people had no sense of eternal life with God after death. A son, bearing your own name and your blood was essential in the ancient world. Abraham, a devout Jew by this time was asked to give-over to God everything he valued most in the world – his only son. We see that in obedience to God he was willing to do this terrible thing, this thing incomprehensible to us. Yet, in the Books of the Kings we do hear of kings who sacrificed their sons under the foundations of their cities, Jericho, in particular; a sign and symbol of their devotion to the God of Israel, and no doubt so did the pagans too. Israel also made sacrifice of every first-born animal to God and substituted animals for the births of their sons later, as we see in the sacrifice of pigeons by the parents of Jesus. Clearly then, the story of Abraham’s testing and willingness to hand-over Isaac marks this transition from old ways to new. Within this blood-curdling story however we see, as the compilers of our lectionary no doubt intended, as parallel and a message.
Abraham represents faithful Israel; Israel which, unlike subsequent generations, with their oft repeated rebellion against God, was faithful; faithful at great personal cost, namely, the sacrifice of an only and beloved son. Abraham represents what Israel was always meant to be like, for in the ‘handing-over’ of his son Isaac, surely we see also the handing over of Abraham in his totality, in all that he is to God. Faithful in his original call to leave Ur and embark on many journeys and during which time he discovered the one true God, Abraham was faithful when it really mattered, so much so that God spared his son, replacing him with the ram caught in the bushes by its horns. Because of his fidelity to God Abraham would be richly rewarded.
But at this point the parallel breaks down, for throughout its history Israel, and indeed, the world failed in fidelity to God. We have embarked this Holy week on a story of redemption, an epic, in which the victim is not the son of an earthly man, but God the Son, sacrificed, for the sins of the world. In this story there has been no last minute reprieve, for a much bigger story has been etched out as we have seen in the handing over of Jesus to death. There has been no happy ending, no promise made to any earthly father, only the gift to the world of the Heavenly Father who allows us to do with his Beloved Son as we will.
Gospel Matthew 28:1-10.
And there we have it, the final moment, Jesus’ vindication by God. Being Matthew’s account it is heralded by lots of action – seismic activity, as the earth, ever obedient to the creator plays its part in the resurrection, just as it had at his death and a stern and dazzling angel rolls the stone from the tomb. The terrified guards, we are told, were ‘like dead men’; in great and dramatic contrast to the women followers of Jesus who have come to the tomb. Suddenly we see women, previously non-persons, and unreliable witnesses in court given their place of honour, respected, trusted and recognised by the Church. They see the angel and hear his message
I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.
He is not here, for he is risen, as he said he would…. He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him.
We are told that the women believed and ran to tell the disciples.
But it was even better, for the Lord simply could not wait to be greeted in Galilee but rushed to meet and share his joy with the women, affirming their witness and all that they represent. It is a curiously gentle and quiet scene, in vivid contrast to the crash-bangs of the angel and the unsealing of the tomb, for our risen Lord is true to his previous personality and meets his followers as beloved friends, those he wants to share his resurrected joy with.
Here then is the final handing-over of Jesus; this time, not to pain and ignominy, but in triumph. Here he defeats all the shame which marked his followers frightened denials and desertion and the uselessness of the female witness at the cross, for there he stands, on the road back into Jerusalem, risen to full bodily life once more, alive, happy and able to meet and communicate and as we shall see and even eat with his followers. Handed–over to death he has defeated death and now can finally and in truth give-himself over to the entire creation, its redeemer and vindicator and in his self-gift every one of us can at last be made into what God the Father always intended us to be; perfectly one with him and the Son and destined for eternal life. In the resurrection of Jesus you and I are now paradidomi, handed-over the world in his name, we are his great victory sign.