Called to Holiness

By Rev. Canon Stewart Murray

published in the March 2018 issue of ‘Crosstalk’

The last week of Lent, Holy Week, with its familiar pattern of readings and liturgies, is not only a source of comfort but also of challenge. When we begin our Lenten journey we are invited to a time of reflection and renewal through prayer, scripture and service to others. We are encouraged to acknowledge the brokenness of our lives and our need for forgiveness and the healing grace of God. In the final week of Lent, we focus on the betrayal, suffering and death of Jesus, through which the new life that we celebrate on Easter morning was forged.

Over the years I have met good people who struggle with the whole idea of Holy Week. They ask why we celebrate such terrible events and question why we do not focus instead on the teachings and example of Jesus: Jesus the teacher and storyteller, rather than the Christ of suffering and death; Jesus the Good Shepherd with a lamb on his shoulders, rather than the Christ on the cross.

Part of the answer to this question lies in yet another question: do we desire to know the Jesus revealed to us in all the richness of scripture and tradition, or only the Jesus of our own imagination? Sacred scripture gives a wide range of vivid and dynamic images of Jesus. These include the gentle healer who welcomed children, who touched the eyes of the blind to open them and who wept at the grave of Lazarus; but they also include the teacher of parables who challenged all who heard him to enter into a deeper faith and encounter with God, and the righteous judge who cleansed the temple and spoke of the end of the world and of the coming of judgement. They include the Jesus who spoke of his betrayal, death and resurrection; the one who spoke of life in the face of death, of light in the midst of darkness, and of hope in the face of despair.

The events of Holy Week speak to us of the depth of the brokenness of our world and of our own hearts. In Holy Week we begin to understand the depth of God’s desire for us to return to him. We come to realize that, through Jesus’ birth, God entered into the fullness of the human condition, not just the gentle and beautiful parts but into the ugliness and horror of it as well.

Through our experience of Holy Week, of reliving the events of Jesus’ betrayal, suffering and death, we can come to know Jesus in a deeper way, in a way that can help us find comfort and help in our own times of difficulties and troubles, for Jesus has walked in the shadows and suffered the harsh realities of being human. We are not alone.

Holy Week challenges us to see the cost of God’s love and how weak at times our response has been to his invitation to follow him. The Jesus revealed in Holy Week reminds us that to follow Christ is not an easy vocation. We are called not just to good works, but to holiness. To be holy is to desire to know and grow in Christ and to seek to do His will in our daily living.