I remember back when I was in actual church work, I often made the decision to pick up the “Passion” part of Palm/Passion Sunday. Reading the story of the crucifixion on the Sunday before Easter was an attempt to avoid jumping from the “Hosanna” parade one Sunday to the “Alleluia” celebration the next, knowing we wouldn’t have big crowds for Holy Week services. It’s easy to skip over Good Friday.
Churches do things all kinds of ways, and that’s right and good. But if we let ourselves miss how quickly the adoring Hosanna crowd turns on Jesus this week, we will miss the meaning of the whole thing. The sharp, ready edge of fear and its junkyard dog, anger, continue to overshadow the world right now. From brutal, deceitful war in Ukraine to daily, dangerous road rage on Mopac, our best selves often seem to be in hiding. The painful walk Jesus will take with his friends and enemies in the days to come can show us again our deep need for love bigger than we can normally summon up on our own.
In the summer of 2020, when we were all still pretty well locked down, I was grateful to attend an online workshop, “Poetry for Preachers,” with Irish poet Pádraig Ó’Tuama. He used his book, Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community,* as material for one day’s exercises. The book contains a set of prayers for the 14 Stations of the Cross, which tell the story of Jesus’ condemnation and stopping points on the journey to his death. The prayers for each of the stations in the book are written in the form of a collect (pronounced KAHL-ect). Pádraig described the collect as a gathering of intention, focus, locus, or particularity, with 5 stages or folds:
- Address God
- Say something more about God
- Name one single desire
- Name the reason for your desire
- A word of praise—can be “amen,” or “in the name” or anything else
Pádraig’s first station’s collect, “Jesus is condemned to death” (p. 53), reads like this:
God of the accused
and the accusing,
who made the mouths, the ears and the hearts
of all in conflict.
May we turn ourselves towards that
which must be heard,
because there we will hear your voice.
I do wonder, what is it that must be heard right now? Not the thing we want most to say, the thing we want other people to listen to, while we talk. What, all on its own, must be heard? Where, in the coming week of betrayal, fear, and desolation, will the voice of God speak, and how might we hear it?
If you’re a preacher or other person who contributes to the work of the church, you may not have time this week to sit down and write a collect. But in the silence one morning or evening, stop doing all the things for a moment, and wonder, listen. As a participant in divine conversation, how might you address God today? What is your one single desire, and why? And what is God saying, outside the sound of your own voice? As you sing the Holy Week songs, remember the story, and take time to grieve at the cross, what is the word you hear that comes as a gift?
One more prayer from Ó’Tuama’s book (p. 32) goes like this:
Gods of Pilate,
you are loud and lazy,
following the fashions of the day
making lies out of love
and making mockeries of meaning.
And – so often – we follow you.
May we instead, follow that small whisper,
even when we barely hear it,
even when we barely believe it,
even when it hurts.
Because this is what love is.
This is what love is.
May you and your people have ears this week, for that which must be heard.
Grace and peace,
I have quoted liberally from Ó’Tuama’s book; I encourage you to purchase it from your local bookstore for your collection of devotional materials.
*Ó Pádraig Ó’Tuama 2017