We enter this week the most holy time of our Church’s year: Holy Week.
This is the time of Our Lord’s betrayal, and his friends forsake him. This is the time he dies alone on the cross, with thieves, the Marys and John the Beloved Disciple at this side.
This is the time he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Never have we felt this cry so strongly.
Our lives are changed, we live behind our doors.
But we live as Christians. We believe and trust in Our God.
We are told, time and time again, that we must self-isolate. But there is another phrase for this: we can embrace the solitude. We can see this as a time for reflection, of being with the Lord. Of making this a profound Holy Week when we share his last few days and follow him to the throne of abandonment, the Cross.
In better times we would share the start of this week with Palm Sunday, when we would join in his entry into Jerusalem. On the other side of the city at this time, Pilate would enter in great triumph as Rome’s envoy, on a mighty horse and shining soldiers. Our Lord’s entry is a parody of this, on a donkey, mocking the powers of the world. But political powers do not have a sense of humour, and they would turn on him and arrest him this week.
We are invited this week to see that the political powers of this world are as passing as Pilate. Our world is to follow the Lord, to share his loneliness at this time. In our solitude, deprived even of the comfort of the mass, we can follow and laugh at the fear of the world. We are not afraid, no matter how alone we feel.
So I ask you all as we enter this last week, what of the inner journey each of us is called to make from death to life? Today would be a good day to pause for a moment and consider where we are. How have prayer, fasting and almsgiving characterised our Lent so far? Do we need to reassess what we are doing or not doing in the light of our present circumstances? One of the great temptations of Lent, as of the Christian life in general, is what we call Elijah Sickness. Just as Elijah was tempted to sit down under a tree and give up, so are we. We begin well, then we become distracted, bored or weary. We still have one last week to go till Easter, but Our Lord will be with us every step of the way. Be encouraged!
On the news front no one in the parish has fallen ill from the virus. Sadly, owing to the need for self-isolation, I cannot bring the sacrament to people at home anymore. The new banner “Do Not Be Afraid” is now on Goodwood Road.
Finances are difficult here at the parish at the moment with no plate – please consider direct debit to the church: the bank account details are “Church of St George The Martyr” BSB 105033 Account No 151992640. Please try and continue to financially support our parish at this difficult time.
St George’s also reaches to those further afield. From the Solomons I heard this week from Coleridge Sua. There all the schools are closed but the churches are still open at least. Charleen is in the islands, only Reece and Coleridge are in Honiara. There are ferries from Honiara still taking trips to islands repatriating families and students to their villages. It is a mass repatriation, as people are panicking that they might get infected. I have asked him about the school costs, and he says that he owes school fees for Charleen of $300 and Reece of $540. Jennifer is working in Vanuatu in a hospital at the moment, but the hospital is running out of equipment such as cord and episiotomy scissors. From Bishop Nathan in Mount Hagen in PNG I heard that there is a curfew there and the businesses and even the churches are closed, and he does not think they will be open for Easter. He is grateful for the Lenten offering we have sent. As a parish we must try and continue our Lenten offering to help the church there.
People have also been asking me on what they can do at home if they can’t go to church. One easy way is to follow the Office, the daily prayers of the church. To this end I have attached the form of compline for this week. Compline is the last office of the day, the one you can say before you go to bed. We usually have St George’s open during Holy Week to allow a few of us to gather to say and sing it. It’s dramatic in the dark, with the great rood illuminated in the gloom. Alas this year it is bereft of people, but we can join in saying it at home.
One of the great hymns of this time is “The Royal Banners Forward Go.” It’s used as an office hymn, that is a hymn we sing or say at the daily offices. In the old English rite, the Sarum rite, it was also used as a processional, with special banners being carried with the processional cross, and the words are very apt for this. Do enjoy it.
The royal banners forward go,
the cross shines forth in mystic glow;
where he in flesh, our flesh who made,
our sentence bore, our ransom paid.
Where deep for us the spear was dyed,
life’s torrent rushing from his side,
to wash us in that precious flood,
where mingled water flowed, and blood.
Fulfilled is all that David told
in true prophetic song of old,
amidst the nations, God, saith he,
hath reigned and triumphed from the tree.
O tree of beauty, tree of light!
O tree with royal purple dight!
Elect on whose triumphal breast
those holy limbs should find their rest.
Upon its arms, like balance true,
he weighed the price for sinners due,
the price which none but he could pay,
and spoiled the spoiler of his prey.
O cross, our one reliance, hail!
So may this Passiontide avail
to give fresh merit to the saint,
and pardon to the penitent.
To thee, eternal Three in One,
let homage meet by all be done:
whom by the cross thou dost restore,
preserve and govern evermore. Amen.
Words: Vexilla Regis by Venantius Fortunatus, 569; trans. John Mason Neale, 1851.
I will send out a special reflection for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter to help you at this time.