Reflection for this Sunday

by Martin Stewart

Holy Week begins with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and the crowd calling out ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel.’[v13]

Some background…

The Crowd.

Fired up by the remarkable tale of the raising of Lazarus [v9], all kinds of people flocked to be a part of the remarkable. 
Perhaps they were investing hope in a miracle to lift them out of whatever they felt was constraining them.

They made a celebrity out of the person at of the centre of it. 

Has anything really changed? 

Look at the speed with which cameras turn up after an event and it is broadcast all around the world and a face is planted on the front page of the magazines.

But we know how quickly the tables can turn – the speed from hero to zero – if the celebrity says the wrong thing and doesn’t keep on delivering.

You can’t trust a crowd.

The Pharisees.

[v19] ‘You see, you can do nothing.’  (The Pharisees and chief priests were already planning to put Jesus to death.) ‘Look, the world has gone after him!’

In other words, the world has gone mad!
That concept is rather apt at the moment, eh!

The Disciples.

They didn’t understand.  Initially.  But after it all they remembered.

We are in this zone of ‘after it all.’ Disciples remembering.

We are re-membered as we are prompted of this story we know so well.

Holy Week informs us, reminds us, re-forms us.

Jesus.

On the donkey.  Silent.

Then, just a little later [v23-24],
‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’

And, [v27]
‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say…’

Going deeper…

I invite you to have a pause to have a little think about that wheat metaphor offered by Jesus:

‘…unless a grain of wheat
falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain;
but if it dies,
it bears much fruit.’

The celebrated New Zealand artist, Colin McCahon, painted an interpretation of it in 1970.

Colin McCahon, A grain of wheat, 1970

I have had a copy of this painting on my study wall for nearly thirty years.

I understand it to be a New Zealand landscape painting.

In the background it is dark – threatening – a shroud of mist and cloud blanking out the hills in the gap between the long night passing and the dawn breaking. 

I wonder what the long night had been like for the artist. 

What had been going on that made this word from Jesus so poignant that it appeared in the first light of the next day?

We don’t know exactly, but McCahon had his share of troubles.

So too did New Zealand in 1970, by the way.

Three particular things stand out in my remembering of those times:

  1. The post-WWII bubble was breaking.  Gordon McLauchlan described New Zealanders of the time as a Passionless People.  Is it too simplistic to say that the hippy age had broken into the post-war uniformity?  Maybe.  But take a look at the family photographs of the early 1970’s.  Look at your children’s hair!  The times were a-changing.  Bob Dylan sang about it a decade earlier and New Zealand was finally catching up!  Life was not so smooth anymore.
  2. Vietnam.  It was becoming very difficult to trust the powers that be.
  3. The Cold War and nuclear bomb proliferation.  We had harnessed the power to destroy the world several times over.  Let me tell you, as a young person in that season, I was dominated by a feeling of despair and it was hard to see the light dawning.

McCahon was helping us reach forwards. 

The old had to die in order for the fruitfulness to come. 

And it had to happen here in our land.  

And it was happening. 

That’s the promise of Jesus.
The journey from night to day, from death to life, invites and requires trust. 

I have noticed that the sun is rising on these autumn mornings. 
Quite pleasantly actually.

But there is a dark mist hanging over us.

We seem to be in the midst of a sea-change event. 
Everyone is using the word unprecedented.
Look at all that is falling over like dominoes dropping – and how quickly.

It is very unsettling!

We find ourselves entering Holy Week in this very uneasy time.

It is possibly the most uneasy time in our lifetimes.

It is very threatening.

The predictions of parallels with the Great Depression of the 1930’s are not looking as farfetched as when we first heard them.

The times are a-changing, rapidly.

And everywhere all at once. 

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, the former is shutting down and what is next has not revealed itself yet. 

I can’t quite believe it is happening even though, in so many obvious ways, it is happening. 

The timing of all of this with Holy Week might be helpful.

We are journeying through Holy Week whilst under the threat of calamity.

We are like the crowd, seeking out something remarkable.

We are like the disciples, not understanding what all of these things mean.

We are like the pharisees, not at all sure what we can do about this world going mad (though, we won’t be joining them in their attempt to snuff out the light!).

Are we willing to take a lead from Jesus, to enter this courageously,
even if the weight of it silences us for a time?

Are we willing to trust that this virus among us is not the end of the world,
but something that can lead us to a more fruitful existence?

Are we willing to explore what God might be offering here?

When Jesus speaks of his soul being troubled, he asks, [v27]

‘And what should I say, “Father, save me from this hour”?
No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 
Father, glorify your name.’

When we pray the Lord’s prayer, it is mostly an act of hope-filled surrender: Your kingdom come, we pray, your will be done. 

May it be on earth as it is in heaven.

We are called to pray that prayer regularly.

It is principally a prayer of handing over
– yielding to what God can make of the messes. 

And thereby glorify the name (and life) of God among us.

I can’t say that I am enjoying what is happening around me.

I am struggling quite a bit with the impact of this on the poor and the powerless.

I am wondering what kind of world we will be in after this.

I am having to draw deeply into the well of trust.

In a strange kind of way, I feel I am able to enter Holy Week in a state of preparedness and attentiveness that I have never experienced before.

I invite you to join with me and with one another on this Holy Week walk.

With trust and hope in God’s promise of dawn following the dark.

To walk in the light and to [v36]

‘believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’

Questions for contemplation

  • What word, sentence, or phrase stood out to you in today’s reading and reflection?
  • What feelings were prompted by what Martin offered?
  • Do you also sense that we are poised on the edge of something quite powerful as we enter Holy Week?
  • Can you think of someone you can talk with about what you have been reflecting on?