Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
They offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them…
Our readings today have taken us on a journey. It has been a journey that started with the joyful moment as Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, but it has finished with the dreadfully painful image of Jesus hanging on the cross amidst the other criminals. Even though the Gospel reading is very long it is only a small portion of a larger journey. We could say, the journey began in Bethlehem with the birth of Jesus. And we know the story continues even though today, we are left hanging! But perhaps the longer version of the story starts with Abraham, or right back to Adam, certainly with Moses the story is really getting stated. And when does the long story finish? I invited you to imagine yourself in the story because the story of the cross includes us.
Most journeys have good days and bad days. I have often a journey from the top of the Grand Canyon down to the Colorado River. From a lookout at the top you could easily see the river nearly 2000 meters below. But as you walk or ride your donkey the path appears to take you away from the river. Indeed, you will feel further away than when you started.
There will be times when you can’t see the river and perhaps the path will take you through eerie narrow ledges in the cliffs. The journey will be much longer than the 1850 meters from the lookout to the river. Perhaps there will be times when you think you need to turn back, or you realise without a guide you would get lost.
Our journey today includes the wonderful moment a bit like being at the lookout seeing the destination but without any real notion of the road ahead. In a sense we end the story today in the eerie dark space with large immoveable rock walls and steep cliffs, as we see Jesus hanging on the cross.
The story winds us through deep human experiences. We hear, and in our mind’s eye, we see Jesus suffering. At that moment we understand that God knows and embraces us in all our suffering. We see Jesus utterly alone and again we sense that our loneliness is also within God’s loving embrace. We hear the agony and despair as Jesus cries out from the cross, “why have you abandoned me?” Our agony and despair when one of our children suicides, or our marriage is ripped apart, or when we are sexually abused, all of these feelings of despair are embraced in the heart of God.
Often, we feel we would prefer to focus on the triumphant moment Jesus rides the donkey into Jerusalem. And then come back on Easter Day for the resurrection. We want the helicopter ride from the lookout to the river. We like easy! Gosh many Christians prefer just Christmas and Easter. The really joyful bits without even the triumphalism of Palm Sunday and certainly don’t want the depth of Holy Week. But I want to suggest that the journey of Holy Week is the very place that we discover the breath and depth, the height and width of God’s love for us.
So, I want to invite you to do some homework this week. At home find some quiet time and read Mark chapter 14 and the first part of Chapter 15 again. Then choose just one paragraph. Try the process of reflective reading we did for our Bible study this week: see below or use this link Lectio Divina. Use the process in a slow unhurried manor. You may be surprised at how the Holy Spirit speaks to you during that reflection. I believe both Dawn’s group on Monday and Anne’s group on Tuesday evening will be using this process so you may like to join them.
During the week you might be able to make 2 or 3 times to repeat the process, each time choose a different paragraph from Mark’s Passion narrative. If this process takes you into places you feel unable or too frightened to go to you might like to talk to one of the Parish Spiritual Directors. A Spiritual Director is like a guide on an unfamiliar journey. Of course, you don’t have to stop using this process at the end of the week. You may like to set aside each week to use this process and discover and develop a whole new way of reflecting on the Scriptures.
Lord as we plumb the depths
of your love this week
give us courage to enter the darkness,
trusting your presence
and confident in your loving embrace
to heal and redeem the darkness
buried within us.
Lectio Divina – guide prepared by Elizabeth Manneh
I’d suggest 30 minutes to read, reflect, and respond to the Holy Spirit’s promptings in Lectio Divina. To tune in, I like to light a candle, not because it’s necessary, but because the flame and fragrance serve as gentle reminders when collecting my thoughts and calming my mind. I pray a prayer of invitation, saying something like, “God, let me hear from you,” and spend a few moments sitting quietly so my mind is open to hearing from God.
My first reading is an opportunity to get to know the Scripture passage. I listen carefully for any words or phrases that seem to jump out. It’s important not to force things, but wait patiently for God to give gentle guidance. One day when reading Jeremiah 31, I felt my mind drawn to the strength of God’s commitment to His covenant:
“[I will make a new covenant] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband.” (Jeremiah 31:32 English Standard Version)
I was struck by the image of God leading His people by the hand as an act of love – they weren’t left to begin their momentous journey alone.
The second reading of the same passage focuses further on the points I become aware of during the first reading. Often I’ll just re-read a few verses so I can reflect carefully on where God has nudged me.
Then I’ll reflect on what I believe God is saying. I try not to analyze the passage. It’s easy to slip into “study mode” and think about interesting points rather than listening to what God might be saying. It helps to ask God to make His focus clear.
After a third reading, it’s time to respond. I like to record my thoughts by journaling because I know I’m very prone to forgetting what I’ve learned, even by the next day! We can respond in prayer too, which gives us the opportunity for a conversation with God.
When reading Jeremiah, I journaled my wonderings. If God is so powerfully committed to keeping His covenant with me, why do I sometimes lack the commitment to stay close to God? Often the events of the day crowd in, and I don’t always make time to listen to God. I prayed that God would help me to prioritize spending time with Him.
After the final reading, I spend around 10 minutes in silent contemplation. This isn’t a time of prayer or meditation — I just sit quietly and allow God to work. When my mind starts to wander and dart here and there, I bring it gently back to stillness again.
There are many sources of inspiration to help develop the practice of Lectio Divina. Soul Shepherding has a collection of downloadable guides. It’s important to remember that Lectio Divina is not an end in itself or another spiritual practice to tick off our to-do list. It helps us hear specifically and individually from God through Scripture, guided by the Holy Spirit, and deepens our relationship with Him.
Originally published January 18, 2017