According to the parish in Tralee (Co Kerry), the last time the Holy Week ceremonies were suspended was in 1847, on account of the number of burials during the Great Famine. it gives something of the scale of what we are experiencing. For believers, it will indeed be strange not to be in church for Holy Week with the whole community of believers, marking “the great events that give us new life in Christ.” Nevertheless, we can indeed celebrate both personally at home and with others through the live streaming of services. The Scriptures readings are especially rich and repay close attention.
Easter Sunday, 12th April 2020
Full notes (PDF)
Gospel notes (audio)
Gospel notes (Portable)
As an extra help, I’ve recorded two lectures, one on the death of Jesus in John’s Gospel (the reading for Good Friday) and one on the resurrection in John’s Gospel (the reading for Easter Sunday). To see and hear the videos, click on these links.
1. John’s Gospel: the death of Jesus
2. John’s gospel: the resurrection of Jesus
A Holy Week Reflection (KOM)
The former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks, has just published a timely, even prescient book, with the title Morality. Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times. It is an extended reflection of where we find ourselves now as a society, how we got here and where to from here. It is almost as if the writer knew something was going to happen. Early in the book, Jonathan Sacks makes a helpful distinction between history and memory. History, he says, is about what happened. Memory is about who we are. It is a distinction we can identify with easily in Ireland, where history, memory and identity collide.
This week we Christians recount a story, in words, actions, symbols and music. The story is not simply about the last days of Jesus; we need to keep in view the whole story — birth, ministry, teaching, parables miracles, conflicts, death and resurrection. Our story telling is both history and memory. We do recall what happened. Equally importantly, we celebrate who we are as result. This comes out in the letter to the Philippians, where Paul writes, Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Paul reminds us of who we are in the story.
In the older English Missal, there was a phrase which especially appealed to me, a simple one: the great events that give us new life in Christ. We believe that something happened in these days which sets us free from the power of death and even from the fear of death, something happened which brings us forgiveness and peace, something happened which shows us the astonishing love of God for all of us and for each one of us. In the great passion poem, My Song is Love Unknown, the poet as thequestion which matters: Oh who am I that for my sake, my Lord should take frail fresh and die? Holy Week reminds us of tragedy and hope. Because of this week, we believe death and destruction evil and suffering are not the final word: on the contrary, we proclaim the victory of love and life in God. While we mark Jesus’ death and resurrection every year, perhaps this year it will speak to us in a new and personal way.
A closing thought on memory. The Jewish Passover is not on a fixed day of the week, unlike our celebrations and, this year, it falls this week on Wednesday evening. In a very ancient instruction, there is teaching on how and even why to celebrate the Passover. As we celebrate our Christian Passover, perhaps these words can inspire us too:
In every generation a person is duty-bound to regard himself as if he personally has gone forth from Egypt, since it is said, And you shall tell your son in that day saying, it is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt (Ex. 13:8). Therefore we are duty-bound to thank, praise, glorify, honour, exalt, extol, and bless him who did for our forefathers and for us all these miracles. He brought us forth from slavery to freedom, anguish to joy, mourning to festival, darkness to great light, subjugation to redemption, so we should say before him, Hallelujah. (Pesahim 10:5)
As we mark the great events that give us new life if Christ, the very same God is present to us, offering us the very same gifts of life, love and forgiveness. May we approach this week with open hearts and open lives. May this week be for us all a time of grace. Amen.
Wishing you every blessing and joy this Eastertide,
Dr Kieran J. O’Mahony OSA
Biblical Studies Coordinator
Holy Cross Diocesan Centre
Dublin D03 P2E7