‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’
That is how our Mass began this morning. The first thing we do today – this extraordinary day, this day of contrasts – is to bless him who comes. And to bless means to say good things about him, to recognise who he is, to acclaim him.
‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ That’s the beginning of the Liturgy. And at the end of the Gospel a solitary centurion says, ‘Truly this man was son of God.’
This is what must fill us first: a sense of who he is, who is centre-stage.
‘All glory, laud and honour,
To thee Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.
Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David’s royal son,
Who in the Lord’s name comest,
The King and blessed One.’
This is our Saviour, says the Collect. This is the one whose ‘state was divine’, says St Paul, yet who humbled himself. This is the one who tells the Sanhedrin: ‘Yes, I am the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One.’ At every moment of the Passion, this is who is suffering. In the grip of ‘sudden fear’ and ‘great distress’, under a hailstorm of mockery, crying out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’, this is who it is: the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One.
This is the beginning of Holy Week. This is the first of a whole series of epic liturgies. And what’s asked of us first is an act of faith, of worshipping faith: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ And if we make that then we really will go with him. This is what Mary did and Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and Salome. We will follow him through all the scenes of his Passion. We won’t lose the plot. And at the Easter Vigil, when we’re asked, ‘Do you believe?’ we’ll be able to say resoundingly, ‘I do’. And in the morning we’ll find ourselves with the beloved disciple looking into the empty tomb: ‘He saw and he believed’ (Jn 20:8). ‘And this is the victory over the world: our faith’ (1 Jn 5:4).
Here’s another thought for this week. It will raise a smile. Think of the Church as a tour company, Ecclesia Tours. It provides a coach, the liturgy. We all get aboard. The clergy are the tour guides. And our bus takes out of our ordinary world: to another place and another time, to the Jerusalem of 2000 years ago. It takes us to the Upper Room, on to Golgotha, to the empty tomb and the garden of the Resurrection. Think of these days not just as holy days but as holidays. On holiday we go somewhere different. We experience another place, another aspect of the world – and we’re refreshed and changed. We’re not quite the same when we come back. And this week Ecclesia Tours is taking us into the death and resurrection of Jesus, to baptism and the forgiveness of sins and the life of grace. So, first the focus of loving, worshipping faith. Then, let’s join with our fellow-Christians, board the bus. Let’s go to Jerusalem, here in Aberdeen – and be refreshed and changed.
And what might that change be? ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings’ (Lk 13:34). ‘And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace”’ (Lk 19: 41-42). Jesus had to go to Jerusalem. It was the place appointed for him by the Father. He had to go there innocent and open, and be devoured by it, and then rise. For each one us, I think, there is an appointed Jerusalem. There is a place for dying and rising allotted us, for dying to self and rising to others and God. If we live here, we could say it’s Aberdeen. But there’s more than geography here. Our Jerusalem is our life. It’s our situation. It’s our duties. It’s our work. If we’re married, it’s our family life. If we’re a minister of the Church, it’s our ministry. And what Jerusalem was for Jesus, these things are for us. They’re the ‘place’ appointed by the Father. They’re the place where we die – to our own will (like Jesus in Gethsemane) – and rise to the will of the Father. They’re where we share the Paschal mystery of Christ. The wonder of him is that he turns our Jerusalems into his. He fills our suffering, our reverses, our failures, our disappointments and our death with himself. They become stations of the Cross that lead to resurrection.
‘Would that today you knew the things that make for peace!’ That’s the grace of Holy Week: knowing the things that make for peace. ‘Not what I will, but what you will’ (Mk 14:36). Patience, humility, hope.