A film’s best advertising is its trailer, in which a flavour is given of what a future presentation will contain. The trailer for the Science Fiction film ‘Alien’, for example, ends with the chilling words, ‘In space, no one can hear you scream.’ The word ‘trailers’ comes from the fact that originally they were run at the end of a film, however because the audience tended to leave as soon as the film finished they were instead shown before the film began.
All through Lent we have been playing trailers of Holy Week, which begins next week on Palm Sunday, as we have walked the Stations of the Cross, following the Via Dolorosa, the sorrowful way that Jesus followed to the cross. I have been walking the Way of the Cross with children from our schools. St Michael’s have produced a very good series of Stations of the Cross which is displayed near the statue of St Joseph. In particular I like the last one where Jesus is laid in the tomb, you can just see the soles of his feet sticking out.
Passion Sunday, which we celebrate today, might also be seen as a trailer for Holy Week. The church is different today, all the images are draped in purple, with the exception of the Stations of the Cross; that which is comfortable and familiar is withdrawn from sight, to advertise that something important is about to happen. The images will remain veiled until a single cross is unveiled on Good Friday for veneration. Our attention is directed towards that cross, reflected in some of our hymns today, as we ‘survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died.’
The readings today are also foretastes of the main event. They are hints of what is to come. Ezekiel speaks of the restoration of the fortunes of Israel, writing in exile and slavery in Babylon, far from the Promised Land. The revival of Israel will be as dramatic as the resurrection of a skeleton. St Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit bringing new life to the person in which he is contained. Without the life-giving Spirit, we would be lifeless, deadened by sin.
And in the gospel, we see the great miracle at Bethany where Lazarus has his life restored to him. The divine power running through Jesus that raised Lazarus will also raise Jesus himself from his tomb on Easter Day. In the gospel we accompany Mary and Martha through the desolation of their grief; we feel their anger, their despair, their sense of loss. They are frustrated that Jesus had not come sooner. Yet we see that they had not lost all hope. Their faith in Jesus is dented but not destroyed by the death of their brother.
We see how Jesus was deeply affected by the death of his friend and the sight of the distraught sisters. The sense of the Greek word John uses for how Jesus felt, is almost one of indignation in reaction to suffering; he was angry that this should happen. He shuddered, he was disturbed.
Some of the children were a little disturbed by the Stations of the Cross, especially when I showed them a real crown of thorns, and a real nail similar to those used to crucify Jesus. I just wanted to make it real for them. Jesus suffered and he died for them and for us, and it hurt. One of my favorite stations produced by a child was one of Jesus on the cross beside which was the word ‘Ow!’ was written. That child had thought about the suffering and how it would have made him react, in a way that was real to him.
All Christians must go through Holy Week, we have to experience it all, all the joys and the sorrows. This is the pivotal experience of our Christian faith. It reminds us that while our faith in Jesus will not inoculate us against misfortune, it will enable us to pass through it. By accompanying Jesus in his time of need, we take to heart that he will be with us in our suffering. We can believe it in our heads but we need to know it in our hearts. As he did it for the least of our fellow human beings, he did it for me and you.
That strengthening of faith, through the rites of Holy Week will also help us to be strong for others, to be with them and alongside them in their time of suffering and need. It will help us not to desert them, not to deny our Christian faith, through acts of indifference.
And when we have experienced all of life, and whatever it has thrown at us, may our faith be as firm as that of Martha, that we may declare our faith in Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life. We may well perceive that this earthly life has been but a trailer of something far more glorious, yet to come.