Holy Week Crowd Scenes

It was a strange Holy Week this year… I suppose it had crept up on me unawares to a certain extent because I had been off ill in the run up to it... But the fact that it was as early as it can possibly be (and will be for the next 134 years or something like that according to someone I was talking to) also put a slightly different slant on it, as all the Easter allusions to new life and spring were a little out of sync.

It began as ever with Palm Sunday and reflections about that cheering crowd waving palm leaves on the road into Jerusalem, but then the next day, there were yet more cheering crowds... this time with Shamrocks rather than palm leaves, because it was St. Patrick's Day. This sent the liturgically literate into a bit of a tailspin... Should it be a feast or a fast?

But the rest of the world celebrated regardless... Actually, to paraphrase the words of Caiaphas about Jesus on Palm Sunday, and apply them to our own St. Pat, it seemed as if the whole world has gone over to him. Dr. Paisley was arguing for St. Patrick’s Day to be an official public holiday in Northern Ireland, and there are plans afoot to make it a public holiday in America too… Everyone was Irish for a Day… However, I must say I have generally avoided the St. Pat's celebrations in my home city since they have tended to be somewhat unwelcoming to someone coming from the broad "Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist" community. Actually when I was on the Belfast City Good Relations Steering Panel, I used to hate the discussions about the St. Patrick's Day celebrations, because they invariably divided people down the middle. I am told, however, by some members of my congregation who did go down this year, that the celebrations were very positive and inclusive this year. So maybe I should have joined that crowd.

Then later in the week, the prevailing colours changed from green, white and gold to red, white and blue as the Queen came to visit… I was drafted in as an extra for the crowd scenes inside East Belfast Mission… At least that is what it felt like, as I got nowhere near her majesty and didn’t actually hear her say anything… In personal terms it was a complete and total waste of a morning. But I was glad to be there to support the sterling work that EBM does, and celebrate a positive day in the life of an area which has had more than its fair share of bad news stories in recent days…
Two of my congregation got a good deal closer to her majesty, being among the recipients of the Maundy money at Armagh Cathedral… The first time in history that such a ceremony had happened on Irish soil. Again, I was really pleased for both of them as they have given of themselves selflessly in the service of family, church and local community throughout their lives.
Just incase you don’t know the term Maundy comes from the Latin “mandatum” or command… referring to Jesus new command on the night before he died that his disciples should love one another as he has loved us…
And certainly those two members of my congregation have taken that command seriously… they have selflessly given of their lives… dying to self, so that others might live fuller lives…

But as we moved from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday, I awoke with the worst of all possible headaches. I won't begin to detail what had to be done to get rid of it, but the drugs I was on left me numb for the rest of the day.

And I suppose that was how all the celebrations of the week had left me too... Both Queen and St. Patrick have in one way or another, become symbols of competing nationalist agendas. Yet the events of Good Friday partly came about because of one man getting caught in the middle of competing nationalist agendas. This time Roman and Judean rather than British and Irish.

The context for that was set by the cheering crowds on Palm Sunday. They were cheering their particular vision of Messiah... a National hero who would lead them into victory against the Romans. But that was not... and was never intended... to be... The celebrations of Palm Sunday, led inexorably to the crucifixion on Good Friday, and the apparent victory of Rome over an upstart King of the Jews.

But the celebrations of Easter Sunday represent the ultimate victory, not of any earthly power, no matter what particular brand of nationalism may seek to conscript it to its own ends, but of the Kingdom of God. There were no cheering crowds on that day... but one day that Kingdom will come in all its fullness... And I want to be there cheering with the rest of creation.


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