The Calvary Conundrum

Some thoughts on the meaning of Easter, plus explanation of our Holy Week services, from Rev Michael Kingston.

It looked like defeat. It looked like failure. When your leader is executed as a common criminal, how can your movement continue? If your leader took the risk of confronting the powers that be, with no army, no political supporters to back him up, what chance did he stand?

If your leader left nothing behind - nothing he'd written, nothing he'd made, or built or painted - how would he be remembered? How would anyone know what he stood for?

And yet millions of people do know what one particular leader stood for. They stand for it themselves. How did this happen? How did the death of a "common criminal" who left nothing behind spark a revolution which changed the course of human history? What happened to transform his demoralised supporters?

This is the conundrum of Calvary. Come with us to seek the answer!

It started on Sunday. We call it "Palm Sunday" because the ordinary folk lined the route waving palm branches as Jesus entered the holy city, Jerusalem, for the last and most decisive time. On this day, we have a palm procession re-enacting his entrance into Jerusalem.

Jesus spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday round and about the city, based at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in nearby Bethany.

On Thursday Jesus celebrated the Jewish Festival of Passover with his 12 friends. This was the celebration of the Jews' escape from slavery in Egypt by crossing the Red Sea. As they ate the bread and drank the wine, Jesus gave them a new meaning: from now on, his followers would share in him whenever they broke bread and drank wine together in his memory. The bread and wine were his body and blood. He then startled them all by washing their feet, as a slave would. Finally, he led them in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that he was open to attack, and spurning the chance to escape over the hill back to Bethany. He was arrested. On Maundy Thursday (from the Latin, "mandatum" - command) we re-enact that Last Supper, even to the extent of washing feet. Then we try to spend time with Jesus in prayer up to midnight. 

After a trial of dubious validity, Jesus was sentenced to death. Carrying a piece of timber that would form the horizontal part of the cross when nailed to a tree, he was led through the city to a nearby hill, Calvary. There he was executed by the Roman method of crucifixion. His friends had by now deserted him, except for John and his mother. After three hours' exposure, during which time he made several notable utterances, he died and his body was taken down for burial.

The Good Friday liturgy re-enacts this drama. The whole account is read from John's Gospel. A cross is ceremonially brought into church and its saving power proclaimed. You can spend the three hours in church if you wish, as follows:

  • 12noon: One Hour's Devotion
  • 1.00pm: The Way of the Cross (following Jesus' route through the old city)
  • 2.00pm: The Liturgy of Good Friday

So that children can share in the very special emotions and drama of this day, there is a special service for them at 10.00am. This is quite short, and handles the subject in a way suitable to a young age.

The disciples were now a scattered rabble. In the darkness of Sunday morning some women disciples went to the tomb to pay respect to the body. Because of the Sabbath, Jesus' body had been buried hastily. Imagine their surprise to find the tomb empty! Not only that, but the same day other disciples reported mysterious meetings with Jesus; he was a stranger on a dusty road; he was in the upper room with them; later, he was on the bank as they fished. In some miraculous way, Jesus was alive!

He had been killed. They were demoralised. They had not expected this. Yet there he was and there they were, inexplicably transformed. Suddenly it was all different. What had he left behind?

  • A company of followers who knew his Way was true
  • A Church to carry on his work
  • A world offered new hope
  • And vindication for his Gospel of eternal life

Easter Saturday in the darkness, we tiptoe to the tomb and come across the Light of the World. We joyously renew our baptismal promises and celebrate the new life of Easter.

Easter Sunday At the Parish Eucharist, we bless the Easter Garden, baptise and admit new communicants. A full church rejoicing in the Good News!

By re-living these remarkable events in the last week of our Lord's life, we shall solve the Calvary Conundrum.

Return from Calvary to St. Barts Home Page.

Call the Rev Michael Kingston on 020 8778 5290

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