Category Archives: Reflections

THE JOURNEY TO EASTER

Holy Saturday – Easter Sunday

The Crucifixion had taken place at Golgotha, which was effectively at the edge of a kind of quarry which John dignifies as a “garden” (John 19:41-2) The Emperor Hadrian had the quarry filled in around 135 AD to offer a level site for a church to be built.

As Jesus was taken down from the Cross.  His dead body was laid out on “The Stone of Unction” on which His body was anointed before it was laid in the tomb. (John 19:38 -40).  This is the first site in the Basilica of The Holy Sepulchre. The aedicule (shrine within a church) which now surrounds the Tomb of Jesus is surprisingly close to Golgotha – hardly 50 metres away. On any normal day there are lines of pilgrims waiting to enter the Tomb. Inside the tomb is now an altar stone dating from the early 19th century.  What would have been a catacomb was really destroyed by Hakim in 1009.

Again our interest should not be with the archaeology or history but with the events after Jesus was laid in the tomb:

“It was very early on the first day of the week and it was still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb.  She saw that the stone had been away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,’ she said, ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’    ….. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”(John 20: 1 -3, 9)

When they saw the tomb was empty, Mary Magdalene stayed there and wept.  The other disciples returned home. This may have been the very moment when the world changed for all of us. From this point onwards the descriptions are not of this world but of Jesus joined with His Father. All we are left with is the empty tomb.

The spirituality of the empty tomb is such an important part of the Christian faith.  What if the body was still there?  All would have been in vain… But there was no body, and the scripture are fulfilled. “”If there is no Resurrection of the dead, then Christ cannot have been raised, then our preaching is without substance, and so is our faith.” (1 Cor 15;13 -14)

Of course many doubted that He was Risen.  Mary had to hear her name before she believed; Thomas needed to place his hand in the side of Jesus; the friends on the road to Emmaus discussing where He was; and so the list goes on.
Always Jesus is gentle with doubt.

As you have followed this journey until the time of the Resurrection you would normally join the crowds who gather at the Tomb on Holy Saturday evening to witness “The Miracle of The Holy Fire.”  A tradition for the last 1,200 years is that on Holy Saturday evening the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem enters the Tomb alone. Outside crowds are pushing and chanting “Kyrie Eleison” … and everyone has an unlit candle.  After some time the Patriarch emerges with a lit “fire” and the tradition is that it has come from God. (There is even a check to make sure there has not been a light hidden in the Tomb beforehand.) That “Holy Fire” is then used to light all the other candles in the Basilica, and fights break out to see who can be first to receive the fire. Very importantly it is carried to all the towns and villages in The Holy Land. Cars are ready with outriders to see how quickly the Holy Fire can be taken. People stand on the routes to be close to the cars as they race to the towns and villages. Christian churches are packed waiting for The Holy Fire to arrive and be the sign that indeed “He is Risen.”. It is also alleged that the flames of The Holy Fire will not burn, although I, personally, cannot vouch for that!

Today… another empty site in Jerusalem and a break in tradition because of the Covid-19 virus. The Holy Fire will appear, but not with the crowds present.

As for the disciples …Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt 28 16- 20)

Reflection

Might we have doubts? … Certainly; it is human.

In this world we might think we are indeed left with the empty tomb.  This is the tomb of materialism, discord, pain and suffering. It is where the mortal remains of Jesus was laid.  We have been on this journey to Easter so that we might live and be confident that Jesus is love and it is that which brings us light and hope. About that we should have no doubts.

As the final thought remember,

“I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

HE IS RISEN

THE JOURNEY TOWARDS EASTER

…. And so to Jerusalem……Palm Sunday

As we approach Palm Sunday, for many this is the entry into Easter. 

At Taybeh Jesus had chosen to isolate himself, so that He might prepare Himself so that He might save others. That was a choice He made in preparation for the next stage of His journey into Jerusalem.

“When they drew near to Bethphage, the the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples saying to them, “ Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you should say, “The Lord has need of them” and he will send them immediately” This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass…..And when He entered Jerusalem all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matt 21: 1-5;10-11)

So Palm Sunday is intended to help us remember that triumphant entry of Jesus on an ass and a colt into Jerusalem. This Easter journey should be ramping up to a period of excitement and busyness – in Jerusalem and in our inner selves. Jesus went to Jerusalem by way of Bethphage, which was near Bethany where his friend Lazarus lived with Martha and Mary.

On Palm Sunday in the Old City of Jerusalem normally the streets are thronging with Christians processing, singing, praying and demonstrating a solidarity with each other and with The Lord. Christians from all over The Holy Land try to get to Jerusalem for the celebrations and the procession.  Normally buses are crammed and there is a great feeling of anticipation. Pilgrims come from all parts of the world to celebrate the Easter season. In recent years this has been somewhat muted by the checkpoints that Israelis have introduced from the West Bank into Israel. Restrictions are now more severe because of the curfew imposed by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government to control the coronavirus.

So on this Palm Sunday 2020 the streets of Old Jerusalem are eerily empty. There is a curfew, and all people who have to be out are asked to maintain “a social distance.”  This is the first time in living memory that such restrictions have emptied the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem on a day of high drama for the Christian community there.

So we can only join in that isolation of the Christians in Jerusalem. They are not at church today and the holy sites lie quiet, closed and empty. These are sights never before seen in Jerusalem.

The tens of thousands of pilgrims who normally come to celebrate Easter are not in The Holy Land. So the festivities and ceremonies are muted or non-existent.  They are taking place behind closed doors or virtually on screens of many different kinds. The economic impact of this is devastating for the Christian communities of Jerusalem and The West Bank.

In Jerusalem – which is the holy city for the three main Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Islam and Judaism – we remember that our Jewish brothers and sisters will be celebrating Passover in a few short weeks when they remember the Exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. Also our Muslim friends will also soon be starting the holy month of Ramadan which is a time for them to be closer to God; it is a time to think of the poor and a time of giving. They too will struggle at this time this year, since they often put much emphasis on “place,” and the places are closed this year.

Reflection

In our parish we would normally have a procession into church at the beginning of Mass, holding high the palms to be blessed.  Today the churches are closed and we have to dig into our memories.

This year we have to live our faith from within our hearts and minds. We shall not be active participants in groups and in churches.  We have to find our faith in our hearts and even in our personal imagination. Think of:

            2000 years ago the triumphant entry of Jesus on an ass and colt.

A year ago the traditional celebrations in the crowded streets in the maze of the Old City of Jerusalem.

            Today the reality of empty streets …

This emptiness might foreshadow the full Passion of Jesus – leaving us with the empty tomb.  That emptiness might not just be an absence – but an opportunity for a new beginning; a beginning of a closer understanding of God.

Can we see our isolation as a blessing?  It is a blessing for the good of others, and not a personal burden. It is the chance to think about a world order based on better relationships and doing good for others. Take time to reflect on this, and how each of us does it.

We can find plenty of “virtual celebrations” on websites such as Vatican News, EWTN, and our Archdiocesan links. All of these are developed that we might come closer to The Lord who will suffer and die for us in the coming week.

And so we move on with this journey…..an inner journey of hope and faith.

To Holy Thursday……

Reflection by Bart McGettrick, as part of “The Journey Towards Easter”.

REFLECTIONS ON AN EASTER JOURNEY

Introduction
It is a pleasure to offer these few brief “Reflections on an Easter Journey – Today”.
These reflections will try to describe what life is like today in the land where Jesus travelled to give His life that we might live. The Holy Land is a rapidly changing area, and now has only 1.2% of its population is Christian. Emigration is constant and the pressures on Christians is severe.

As in this country there is currently significant restrictions on movement of people in Palestine.  The Coronavirus has had the impact of virtually shutting off much of Palestinian land. On 6 March the Palestinian Authority declared a “lockdown” of mobility and social meeting in the area. This has kept the number of cases with Coronavirus low, currently around 100, and few deaths.  The impact on the economy has been devastating since much is dependent on tourism. That has simply collapsed.

As so often happens there are unknown consequences of crises.  In The Holy Land there is a resurgence of the spiritual life of Christians.  There is an awareness that humanity is not saved by material wealth and celebrities, but by faith and good works. So not all is disaster and gloom.

Jesus went to Jerusalem not only to die – but that He would rise for us and be Our Saviour. Keep that in mind through the darker days that cover us. Journey to Easter with that hope.

Beginning The Journey
We shall begin this journey after the miracle of “The Raising of Lazarus” (John 11: 1-45) and what took place after that. Indeed it was this miracle which seems to have been a factor in provoking the Pharisees to begin the actions that would lead to the Crucifixion. John says, “Since that day on, they (the Pharisees) made the decision to kill him. Jesus did not walk in public among the Jews anymore. He went away to a region near the desert, to a city called Ephraim, and it was there that he and his disciples dwelt” (John 11: 53–54).

So this journey takes us to Ephraim, today known as Taybeh.  This town is 12 miles or so from Jerusalem with a population of around 2,500 people and is now best known for the production of Taybeh Beer!  It remains a quiet town with a relatively high proportion of Christians (around 30%; the rest being Moslem). It was the last all-Christian town in Palestine. There is still an active Christian community here, with a vibrant Catholic parish and school. Today there is also a Nursing Home, Beit Afram, run by the Catholic Church.  This is an important service for the elderly and the frail people of that area and an example of the importance of the Catholic Church in The Holy Land.

As with all towns in The Holy Land it is on top of a hill – away from the dangerous valleys that can flood in winter, and for the cool breezes in the hot summers. So Jesus would have stayed in and around this rocky area, preparing Himself for His travel to Jerusalem.

Reflection:
So Jesus left his friends – Lazarus, Martha and Mary – and went to the solitude in the hill country around Taybeh. There He and His disciples fortified themselves spiritually through quiet prayer knowing what he would face when He went to Jerusalem.

As we isolate ourselves these days, we might think that there are some people afraid because of ailing health and an uncertain future.  We keep especially in our prayers – our families; the elderly; neighbours; those living alone; and those with illness; and those who are afraid.

Yes, Jesus was afraid of facing the end of His life, and we might think of others in that situation.

Can we this week offer some practical help?  You can be at home and comfort others. Our faith is expressed not just in words but in good works.

This week can we stay at home and lift the phone to, say two people who may be alone or suffering?
Can we email someone whom we have neglected?
Can we simply offer a prayer…?

Be with Jesus on His final journey… and so to Jerusalem …