Africa, April 2017, Vol. 82 No. 3
Fr Dermot Connolly spent many years in Nigeria and now works in the District of Ireland.
©Africa, St Patrick's Missions Magazine
Fr Dermot Connolly
A week in April
Six days before the Passover
Jesus came to Bethany….
They went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:30) Photo: Gethsemane olive trees, Jerusalem. Courtesy D Connolly
The final week of Jesus’ life begins with his visit to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. The Gospel for Monday of Holy Week picks up the story: Mary, Lazarus’ sister, took a pound of costly perfume to anoint Jesus’ feet and dry them with her hair. After what had happened to her brother, Mary recognizes the smell of death, and fights against it: the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Only she and Jesus are aware that it is for Jesus’ own burial. (John 11:39; 12:1-11)
Day by day, that final week continues to the burial; the Gospels proclaimed daily in the liturgy of Holy Week set the tone and, almost in real time, tell the story. Jesus goes firmly to the gift of his death; it is the climax of his incarnation, God entangled with earth. While Peter and Judas and the other apostles stumble in a cloud of denial, betrayal, self-interest and fear.
About 25 years after the death of Jesus, long before any Gospel narratives had been composed, St Paul was writing to the Corinthians that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
A century later again, with the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John already in circulation, St Justin Martyr (died 165) could refer to the weekly gatherings of the early Christians: On Sundays there is an assembly of all who live in towns or in the country, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read for as long as time allows…. bread and wine and water are brought up; the president offers prayers and thanksgiving as best he can, and the people say ‘Amen’ as an expression of their agreement.
And so, to the liturgy of the Church for our own times. In this year 2017, Holy Week runs from the 9th to 16th April. Even if you cannot join the “assembly,” you could do worse than to follow the daily gospel readings, (the memoirs of the apostles as St Justin called them) and if possible the writings of the prophets that accompany them. They can be found in Daily Missals or in Holy Week handbooks; for your convenience, here are the gospels:
Palm Sunday Matthew 26:14 – 27:66
Monday John 12:1-11
Tuesday John 13:21-33, 36-38
Wednesday Matthew 26:14-25
Holy Thursday John 13:1-15
Good Friday John 18:1 – 19:42
Easter Vigil Matthew 28:1-10
Easter Sunday John 20:1-9
These gospel readings have been written down and bound into books and proclaimed over centuries. They are not just accounts of events in Holy Week; they are encounters. Indeed, the word of God is living and active…. (Hebrews 4:12) More than just reading or hearing them, we need to engage with them – as you might with a new poem, or an old love-letter. Who knows what may happen during a week in April?