Yes, I know that Holy Week should always be an extraordinary week, but this week has been particularly special.
This week for the first time we had someone visit us during Evening Prayer at St Michael’s – and not the sort of person we were expecting at all. It was a young postgraduate student from London who was returning on Friday after her course had gone badly wrong. I had several long conversations and she seemed genuinely interested in the Christian faith. The last time I saw her she was convinced prayers had been answered and she had decided what she was going to do next with her life. Although I will probably never see her again, I was encouraged by my Bible reading this morning where Jesus says to the man formerly known as Legion: Return home and tell how much God has done for you . (Luke 8:39). I hope that indeed is what N is doing today.
Yesterday we had a Passover meal at St Barnabas. It was good to see so many people enjoying fellowship together, and folk worked so hard to make it a really special occasion. But what really stood out for me was an incident at the end when about six youths came in, I don’t think planning anything good. As I went over to talk to them, one of them said, “S..t, he’s got a knife” and they all fled. Am I sort the person to carry a knife?? So what then did they see? I genuinely believe it was the Lord at work protecting me and the church from harm.
Then today we met at St Barnabas to carry the cross over to St Michael’s. Only a small group of us, but it felt good to be making a statement of faith in this way. When we arrived at St Michael’s, someone had already started toasting hot cross buns and making cups of tea. And what happened, not that it was particularly planned, was a lovely illustration of the church in action. A group in the main body of the church praying and reflecting on Scripture. A group in the hall area drinking tea and chatting. And a group outside giving away hot cross buns and a leaflet the diocese had produced. Worship, fellowship, mission all at the same time – a real picture of what the church should be.
Although we have a very busy road outside very few people walk past it. So the giveaway was a slow, but steady process – rather like mission in general round here. But we had the opportunity for a few conversations, and the folk who run the shop over the road couldn’t get enough of the buns.
I had divided the three hours at the cross into six sections – see here. When I was not outside, I spent some time meditating on Luke 23:26 and the story of Simon of Cyrene:
What do we know about Simon of Cyrene?
+ He was forced to change direction. He was going into Jerusalem, but now found himself going out of the city.
+ He was forced to carry the cross
+ He was forced to follow Jesus (verse 26 says quite explicitly he carried the cross behind Jesus).
But something happened that day which made Simon chose to be a follower of Jesus. Why else would his name be recorded if he had not become a disciple? We don’t know exactly what led to his conversion, but we can guess it must have been something to do with the fact he witnessed Jesus’ death and the reactions of those standing by.
But whatever the precise reason, Simon’s experience has been recorded for us as a lesson in what it means to become a disciple of Jesus.
+ To turn from an old way of life to a new one. Simon would no longer travel to Jerusalem to take part in the temple rituals. The day he met Jesus spelt the end of religion and the beginning of faith.
+ To take up the cross and die to self – which is what being a disciple is all about, according to Jesus (Luke 9:23-25)
+ To follow Jesus even to the point of identifying with His death.
Maybe next year I will develop this thought for Good Friday. For now, it has been very special time…and on top of everything else, I have just had a completely unexpected phone call from a missionary friend in Peru. It is exciting to think just how far the Christian faith has spread out from its origin in Jerusalem.