Sunday of the Branches

Local churches will mostly be far advanced in their preparations for Holy Week and Easter.  In my rather strange role, after 2 decades in a local setting, I have been preparing to co-lead a reflective retreat on Iona.

 

I hope that when the main operation of the Iona Community  gets going again from next year, after renovation, we might be able to do something like this on a larger scale.

 

On this occasion,  it also means that I have the very special opportunity partially  to shape festival worship, - as ever, collaboratively rather than dictatorially  - for Iona Abbey.  

 

Iona (and more widely, the Iona Community)  has sometimes been a place of experiment; a laboratory of liturgy, though always with the discipline of working in the ecumenical context of the wider Church. 

 

Trial and error, both, of course.

 

Able on this occasion to depart from the Lectionary to select readings, I am bringing “if (disciples) keep silent, the stones would shout aloud”  together with the “groaning Creation/earth” of Romans 8: 22, both acknowledging the Voice of Creation, which we so readily exclude.

 

What I probably could not responsibly do, would be to accept an Easter ‘booking’ as Chaplain with a local church, without a considerable amount of collaborative preparation. 

 

Maybe in the next couple of years it might happen. 

But I’ve just begun. Real change needs relationship.

 

Yes, all our Easters are now in the global contact of climate crisis, but a local worshipping community also needs to feel, in a meaningful way,  that they have ‘done’ or experienced Easter, whatever the shaping influences. The spiritual nourishment of the festival should not in any way be diminished.  Though you may already have taken up this task and discovered it certainly can be enhanced.

 

A ‘green Easter’ needs to be sufficiently familiar that it feels like Easter. Because it will have brought out some authentic ingredient, rather than just added decorative green icing on the Easter cake.

 

As I have noted, with delight, of the Pope’s encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ , he didn’t suddenly step aside from being Pope to write it,  but rather, it arose  out of the mainstream calling of his office.

 

Nonetheless, I am excited whenever  the boat can be pushed out just a little in looking, from a ‘green’ context, at the key  festivals and celebrations of the Christian calendar.  

 

Some of you have more opportunity here than others, according to your tradition.

 

But if you were asking: (and maybe thinking about next year) : as regards Palm Sunday, I would encourage a gentle departure from imported palms in the direction of use of foliage and branches from your own neighbourhoods. ‘Look.... at all the trees’ says Jesus. 

 

 A forester friend suggested a “top-and-lop Sunday!. 

 

In French, Palm Sunday is ‘Dimanche des Rameaux” (Sunday of the branches). 

 

We gain a closeness to the Gospel when we find it at work in our own environment, rather than  just somewhere detached and conveniently distant. 

 

It might also be very interesting for a study group to look at liturgical commonplaces, or well-known hymns, and come to appreciate the creative distance these wordings have travelled from their invariably scriptural origins. And what agendas were at work in that journey. 

 

 Even as far back as the voyage from the ‘Word made fleshof John’s Gospel  to “he was made [specifically]  human in the Nicene Creed.

 

I am working with a music composer  friend on a fresh look - for this occasion - at the  Agnus Dei (‘Lamb of God’) which is already known and used in a wonderful variety of wordings and settings. 

 

The aim will be: not to replace, but to deepen our understanding of the power of Christian heritage. The result needs to be both recognisable and meaningful.

 

Not just a matter of tweaking the odd word, but a prayerful and poetic challenge.  I am encouraged to hear of several denominations taking up this gauntlet.

 

Have a good Holy Week!

 

 

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