ON BEING HAND HELD BY A PIERCED AND EVERLASTING LORD
A letter to the clergy at the start of Holy Week 2022
Dear sisters and brothers
I’m sending this to you just before the start of Holy Week to offer encouragement in what lies ahead.
It’s been three years since we have been able to share freely together in the story of Jesus’ final hours, death and resurrection.
Our emotions are in a very different and unexpected place now; we have become inhibited and wary. There are physical and psychological scars from the pandemic, and there have also been relational ones, as we learned not to be spontaneous and tactile with one another.
And now there is war in Europe.
There is radical uncertainty about life today; a sense we can’t plot linear, controlled futures where we are safe and happy.
This loss of command is playing heavily on everyone, and a moment when people invest strongly in those in public leadership. Clergy inhabit a particular and unusual role in life, where people expect much of them; in my experience, they are also people with a strong sense of duty. This is an uneasy combination. If the goal of mission is a creation renewed by the resurrection of Jesus, it can feel like nothing is beyond our remit. This sometimes leaves clergy with a nagging sense of not quite cutting it.
Please resist shapeless, generalised guilt as you go about this week.
The beauty of Holy Week is the way it distils those daily jobs into the purity of our calling: to preach Christ crucified. In the same way the funeral of someone we love supplies us with a numbing clarity over what matters in life, so this annual telling of Jesus’ end brings us back to source. And in a culture drained of hope, we have a resurrection to share. This is no Disneyfied happy ever after story, but a paradox of deep comfort and unsettling challenge; what one poet describes as the ‘chill ecstasy’ of the empty tomb.
Of course, you know all this.
If Jews demanded signs and Greeks wisdom in the ancient world, it feels like our culture compels strength and perfection, especially in those with a public profile. By contrast, God submitted to the cross. Of all the options presumably open to him, he chose that our defining picture of him would be a powerless and humiliated one; an image that deeply offends our muscular, airbrushed world.
It looks really foolish, but then that’s the whole point.
This week I know you will share in this, bringing your own vulnerabilities and fears to the table – for we all have them. I’m just praying that as you do so, you are filled with a sense of how deeply God loves you personally and how he will take you as you are, and fill the weakness you feel with the power you cannot contain.
The kingdom is coming because of what we do and in spite of what we do, for the faltering, childlike steps we take are being hand-held by a pierced and everlasting Lord.
Yours in Christ, Simon
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