Ray of Darkness by Rowan Williams

(Cowley; USA, 1995)

Ray of Darkness is a collection of ++Rowan’s sermons from the mid 1990s around key Christian dates, creeds and dogmas.  I dipped into the relevant Holy Week and Easter sermons through-out the past weeks.  The sermons never failed to move me.  This is a book to have on one’s bookshelf for those moments when you are in need of a 5 minute spiritual pep talk that goes beyond banal platitudes.

I wish they were available on line, but unfortunately I’ve not found them anywhere.  However, you can access ++Rowan’s latest sermons on the ABofC website, including his 2012 easter day sermon.

I’ll share just one quote from ++Rowan which sums up my Holy Week experience (and ends this series of reddress posts):

In this week, the holy is redefined and recreated for us. The temple is rebuilt as the body of the crucified Christ, not a place of exclusions, a house of merchandise where we must barter to be allowed in, trading our daily lives, our secular joys and pains for the sacred currency of ritual and acceptable pure gifts that will placate God, but the cross by the roadside, unfenced, unadorned, the public and defenseless place where God gives us room.

Holy Week, with all its intensity of ritual and imaginative elaboration, comes paradoxically to break down the walls of self-contained religion and morality and to gather us around the one true holy place of the Christian religion, Jesus himself, displayed to the world as the public language of our God, placarded on the history of human suffering that stretches along the roadside. This is a weekfor learning – not management, bargaining, and rule-keeping, but naked trust in that naked gift.

 

 

Holy Week: Franz Lisst Via Crucis

Last night was one of the more extraordinary moments of my life.  I went to church at my new parish St Johns Anglican in Camberwell, for a Stations of the Cross with music by Franz Lisst, played by a (more than) talented parishioner.

Lisst wrote this music in 1871 from a place of deep contemplation and personal prayer.  It can only be described as ‘avant-garde,’ even by today’s standards.  Strange then, that it sounded familiar and so very ‘accurate’ as a soundtrack to the last hours of Jesus’ life.  I have wondered today about the ‘sound’ of the mystery which Christians across the ages have found in contemplation.  The music took me directly back to Jerusalem 200o years ago and walk the ‘stations of the cross’ with Jesus.

Here is a youtube clip with some excerpts from the piano solo version, if you’d like to get hint of the experience.

By the close of the service I was shell-shocked, as indeed I would have been if I had followed Jesus on that dark day.

Lisst’s music is beyond words; as is the darkness of the cross, and the mystery of God’s love hidden in the deepest of shadows there.

Holy Week: Palm Sunday

I know It’s been a bit quiet on the reddresstheology front lately, but I will refrain from apologising for my own blog!  Not only have I been a little preoccupied with moving across town and opening a new chapter of my life with PhD (and several other things besides), I’ve been doing more writing than reading, and it just hasn’t made it back here yet.  Having said that, I will start blogging again about my reading after Easter, so be prepared for some Continental Philosophy!

Meanwhile, I’ve decided I would set myself the discipline of writing each day in Holy Week.  Since the Easters of my youth, I have enjoyed popping into the church for 1/2 hour each night of holy week and feeling the build up towards the great Easter Day celebration.  In recent years I have focused on stepping into the story and letting the drama of the passion draw out the passion of my own life: triumphant entry into Jerusalem; cruel betrayal; the garden of tears and the trial; death; silence; and the greatest day that ever was.

Holy Week starts today with Palm Sunday, and I am preaching in my new parish community.  I felt it as a burden to invite these strangers into an experience of God which is so central and personal to my life.  What could I say that would free people to trust themselves to the spiritual process of encountering God.  For better or worse, these are the words I came up with…

Come any way you want, but come.

About ten or fifteen years ago, we started to see movies in the cinema that differed from the traditional story-telling of the golden era. We are still most used to movies that tell a story, from the beginning, to the end, in sequence, the priority first and foremost is to entertain us. But there are now movies like The Tree of Life or the much less intense Love Actually, that play with linear time frame or story-line. We get snippets of the same story from different people’s perspectives, like the TV drama The Slap. Or we switch from present to past like in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – which keeps us in suspense but, if you are like me, can be more than a little confusing! By mixing up the narrative sequence the Director gets to make a point: expect the unexpected, everything is relevant, the web of life is complicated.

Palm Sunday feels a little like this, somewhat more unsettling movie genre to me. We have the Liturgy of the Palms locating us at the beginning of the Passion narrative, on the first of the final days of Jesus in the Holy City of Jerusalem. It’s a joyous occasion it would seem, but then the Scripture readings complicate the picture. We are cast into the future with the gospel to become aware that the elation of today is fleeting. We are thrust into poetic theology by the old testament and epistle to question a great array of questions: who is this man on the donkey? It is a day on which I am not quite sure where to rest my gaze. I feel the foreboding at the very same time that I hear the Hosanna. I feel the pain of my Lord’s rejection even as the crowds welcome him with their cheers. And I feel the questions: who is this man? Who am I when I welcome him?

During his ministry, Jesus consistently defied the expectations of the people: he would not be the Messiah of their making. And yet he received their acclaim, in great defiance of the religious authorities who rejected any notion of Jesus being the Messiah, and the secular authorities who would objected to any whiff of insurrection.

As Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, we enter Holy Week. We enter with mixed emotions, and, if we have been paying attention to the Jesus who walked this earth, we should enter with trepidation. For Jesus consistently defies expectation. Jesus consistently complicates things at the same moment as making them simple. In this week Jesus draws pain and suffering unto himself in contradictory triumph. And Jesus of the gospels shocks all creation, by defying death on Resurrection Day.

This is not the week for simple storytelling. It is the week to sit with every inconsistency and inadequacy of life and faith. Welcome this Jesus into your heart with your Hosannas, but bring your questions, your doubts, your anguish and your confusion. Don’t be tempted to dissolve the story into easy entertainment. Welcome the complexity and complications as you enter into Holy Week, and allow Jesus to surprise you.

If you need them, Kevin Hart, the Australian poet-theologian has provided some words:  a prayer to cry out with the chorus of the crowds: Come Christ Come.  But a prayer we speak with eyes wide open, alert to the discordances and disturbances of both our life and God’s Passion.

Prayer

by Kevin Hart, Young Rain (2009)

O come, in any way you want,

In morning sunlight fooling in the leaves

Or in thick bouts of rain that soak my head

         Because of what the darkness said

Or come, though far too slowly for my eye to see,

Like a dark hair that fades to gray

Come with the wind that wraps my house

Or winter light that slants upon a page

         Because the beast is stirring in its cage

Or come in raw and ragged smells

Of gum leaves dangling down at noon

Or in the undertow of love

When she’s away

         Because a night creeps through the day

Come as you used to, years ago,

When I first fell for you

In the deep calm of an autumn morning

Beginning with the cooing of a dove

            Because of love, the lightest love

Or if that’s not your way these days

Because of me, because

Of something dead in me,

Come like a jagged knife into my gut

           Because your touch will surely cut

Come any way you want

But come