Frequently school is no longer in session during Holy Week, but in the years such as this when we (unlike many other areas) don’t break up until just before the Easter weekend there is an opportunity for us to reflect with greater immediacy on the Easter story with students. We held Holy Week services for all students earlier this week and presented again the story of the last days and hours of Christ’s life to them, ending in the suspense which closes Good Friday. We know there is a wonderful unfolding to the story, but we hold ourselves for a moment in the desolation of Good Friday, when the friends of Jesus believe there is no way forward, and all they had experienced was a cruel delusion.
Who has not had such moments in their lives? Sometimes they are brought about by loss or bereavement, or depression, failure, abandonment, and for others the sheer weight of life can suddenly simply seem overwhelming. Those are the Good Friday times which affect us all. And yet at other times, we can be so taken up by the busy-ness of life that we push to the edge the ‘big questions’, the yawning gap which we cannot fill by ourselves.
I was struck recently when reading this poem by Oscar Wilde. He is in Italy and in the first half of the poem is distracted by the sheer beauty and sweetness of the environment he is in. However, it is Easter, and is suddenly reminded of the story of Holy Week and Good Friday in particular by a ‘the young boy priest’. How easy it is for us, in our busy world, where on Good Friday, unlike in relatively recent times, businesses and shops and the whole consumer world which occupies us, just carries on:
Oscar Wilde: Sonnet written in Holy Week at Genoa
I wandered in Scoglietto’s green retreat,
The oranges on each o’erhanging spray
Burned as bright lamps of gold to shame the day;
Some startled bird with fluttering wings and fleet
Made snow of all the blossoms, at my feet
Like silver moons the pale narcissi lay:
And the curved waves that streaked the sapphire bay
Laughed i’ the sun, and life seemed very sweet.
Outside the young boy-priest passed singing clear,
“Jesus the Son of Mary has been slain,
O come and fill his sepulchre with flowers.”
Ah, God! Ah, God! those dear Hellenic hours
Had drowned all memory of Thy bitter pain,
The Cross, the Crown, the Soldiers, and the Spear.
Several decades later, a real Calvary was endured by the soldiers on the fronts of the First World War. All who have travelled in northern France will be familiar with the stone crucifixes which one often sees by roadsides or at the entry to villages. Some had perhaps been damaged by shelling during the battles of World War I. Wilfred Owen, writing on Good Friday 1916, almost one hundred years ago, draws a parallel between the Christ who died meekly for others and out of love to the ordinary soldiers who go, unhating, ‘like lambs to the slaughter’:
Wilfred Owen: At a Calvary near Ancre (For Good Friday)
One ever hangs where shelled roads part.
In this war He too lost a limb,
But His disciples hide apart;
And now the Soldiers bear with Him.
Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,
And in their faces there is pride
That they were flesh-marked by the Beast
By whom the gentle Christ’s denied.
The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.
It is the mission of a Church school to remind young people of the central story of the Christian faith, ‘The Cross, the Crown, the Soldiers, and the Spear’, as Wilde puts it, and in so doing to bring love, not hate, to the world.
I hope that all members of the Bennett community have a restful and recuperative Easter break.