Saturday, March 26, 2016

Bishop Mary's Easter Message

Some years ago a film called “The Passion of the Christ” was produced. There was much furor about its graphic and violent content and about whether “real Christians” should ever watch it. I don’t like scary or violent movies and I try to avoid seeing representations of people suffering. I see enough real suffering going on around us, and the news media are only too willing to find a sensational photo or audio clip to draw us in. Nevertheless, I announced that I would go see this movie with any one in the parish who wanted to go. Several carloads made the trek from Ste-Agathe to Ste-Adele on a wintry night in Lent.

I don’t remember very much of the actual movie now because the story of (what Christians call) Holy Week has always been part of my faith life. Except for the sound track and the visual effects, I was already aware that Christ’s suffering was a brutal and tortured journey to the cross and death.

The Passion of Jesus Christ is read on Palm/Passion Sunday(this year it is Luke 22:14 -23:56) and usually again on Good Friday. Maundy Thursday celebrates Jesus’ Last Supper and his gift to us of Holy Communion or the Eucharist, and Jesus’ final commandment that we are to love one another as he has loved us. The service ends with Jesus agonizing in prayer about what is coming next and the arrival of the guards to arrest him.

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Luke 22:42

Good Friday relives Jesus’ trial and crucifixion and invites us to reflect on what the cross means. We join in prayer for the world and for all who need this sacrificial love of Christ. This story is part of the Christian DNA, and, yet, many of us shy away from thinking about it. Over the years, I have tried to grow in my own understanding of what actually took place in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Why did Jesus have to die such a cruel and alienated death? What kind of God would do that to his chosen and beloved Son? Theologians and Christians of all stripes and convictions have attempted to answer but, ultimately, each of us must get to a place where we own the story as our own.

I now understand that Jesus, the Son of God, willingly went into the darkest place of suffering and alienation and death – that frightening black hole that none of us wants to experience. This was God’s idea, whether we are really able to explain it well or not! It is expressed in The Creed as Jesus dying “for us and for our salvation”, but somehow it can end up being formulaic if we don’t pause to appreciate what that means to us personally. Some (the more well behaved among us?) don’t really understand why Jesus needed to die for our sins, either. I find it helpful to understand sin as anything that separates us from God or takes us off the path of discipleship. That can be all kinds of stuff and not just evil deeds...

On Easter Eve, the church gathers in darkness for The Great Vigil of Easter. If you have never attended this service, you might try it (Christ Church Cathedral’s service is at 7:30pm if you can’t find one in your parish). The Paschal/Easter candle is lit and carried into the sanctuary and someone sings or proclaims “The Light of Christ!” The story of God and humans is read from several books of the Bible. Each of us is given a candle to hold as we hear again how God planned to restore our relationship with him, and how God raised Jesus from the dead. Sometimes baptisms and confirmations are held and, always, we in the congregation can renew our commitment to Christ in our baptismal vows. Once again, we affirm that our own alienation and sin has been buried with Christ and that we live as Christ’s body in the world! We carry the light of Christ, which the darkness cannot extinguish!

I hope that you will find time this year to explore the story of our salvation. Jesus died to break the power of our alienation from ourselves and from God. What looked like the end, turned out to be God’s triumph and opportunity!! Jesus rose from the grave, the firstborn from the dead. Alleluia!

Blessed Holy Week and Happy East
Bishop Mary

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