Stilla veckan/Holy week

During the last ferial days of Lent, the liturgy gives us three prophe6c sketches from Isaiah, vigne;es of Christ’s salvific work. From the sixth century BC, Israel revered these Servant Songs, wondering what their fulfilment might be. The early Church was astonished to see how precisely they foreshadowed the des6ny of Jesus. They give access, as it were, to the mind, the heart, behind his mission. Put before us today is the Lord’s supreme discre6on. ‘He will not cry or liK up his voice, or make it heard in the street.’ God specialises in slipping in unno6ced. He is like a li;le boy who, past bed6me, does not want to be alone, so steals into a group of adults engaged in absorbed conversa6on. The child moves and pauses cannily, by intervals. Slowly he crawls up into a corner of the sofa.

There he sits and waits, causing genuine surprise when his father, coming up for breath, turns round and says, ‘But -­‐ how long have you been here?’ There is secret delight on both sides; a tacit recogni6on of the joy of being in each other’s presence. That is how God approaches us. He does not come crashing in with loud commands, saying ‘Do this!’ or ‘Do that!’ He quietly sustains, encourages, directs. ‘A bruised reed he will not break, a dimly burning wick he will not quench.’ In some European languages, Holy Week is called Silent Week. As we embark on it, let us be determinedly a;en6ve. Let us help one another to be quiet, watch, and listen. Let us not miss a moment of the Lord’s walking among us as he quietly prepares for our redemp6on, calling us into his presence, out of the dark dungeons of self.

Today’s passage from Isaiah, another foreshadowing of Christ on the threshold of his Passion, disturbs. It speaks of a predetermined mission. A man is enveloped by a call from his mother’s womb. The call is his iden6ty, his name. What is the call for? It is, above all, a call to speak. ‘He made my mouth like a sharp sword’; ‘he made me a polished arrow’. Swords and arrows are instrument of hun6ng or war. They are used to wound; to lay low; to kill. The Scriptures oKen speak of God’s Word in such terms. They speak of ‘chas6sement’ by his oracles; of the Lord’s ‘cuVng short’ the days of his elect; of the lightning shaKs of his quiver. ‘You have liKed me up and cast me down’, we read in a Psalm. In another, ‘I am like the slain lying in the grave’. The Lord may, for our good, inflict pain and loss. Such giKs are hard to accept. Our natural self rebels against them.

We shield ourselves to avoid them. But thereby we risk leVng the Lord pass us by, rendering his work ineffec6ve. Isaiah’s Chosen One goes on: ‘I said, “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity”.’ This phrase gives a poignant insight into the heart of Christ in Holy Week. Looking round, he sees all his arrows fallen to the ground, warded off by hard hearts, closed minds. The sharp sword of his word has leK no las6ng impact. What sadness he must have known, looking round at his friends, at us, seemingly so untouched! In the monas6c tradi6on we are told that the heart of a real monk is a heart that is ‘pierced’. It willingly submits to the Lord’s health-­‐bringing wounds. These days we may ask ourselves: is my heart such a heart? Do I dare to leave it unprotected, open to the hur^ul-­‐healing darts of Christ’s grace? Or do I keep it wrapped up in a coat of mail, safe, but lonely and cold?

In prophe6c imagery, the mission of Christ is described to us today in terms of two physical members. First we hear of his tongue. ‘The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught.’ When we learn something, it is to pass it on, to help others. Nothing is ever for ourselves alone. The Son who is in the bosom of the Father has been taught in the most wonderful school. Thus he knows ‘how to sustain with a word him that is weary’. Un6l this last week of his earthly life, how indefa6gably Jesus has performed this ministry of sustenance! The comfort he brought by his words is boundless; it vibrates s6ll like a live current. From now on, though, Christ speaks no more. Even face to face with Pilate he is silent. He only listens. He is all ear. ‘The Lord God’, Isaiah goes on, ‘has opened my ear, I was not rebellious. I turned not backward.’ Then comes a remarkable predic6on of Good Friday’s degrada6on: the blows, the contempt, the spi;le. ‘The Lord has opened my ear. I was not rebellious.’

What was it Christ heard that made him stay and submit to destruc6on? To judge by the account of the agony in the garden, he heard nothing. When asking in prayer that this cup might pass from him, he received no response. Past is the clear valida6on of the Bap6sm or Transfigura6on: ‘This is my beloved Son!’ The Father’s voice is silent now. This is Christ’s challenging legacy to us, who profess to live like him: When not told to move, remain. Commit yourself in faith to the Lord who will help, but who may ask you, first, to endure great trials. When to our human eyes Jesus seems helpless, lost in darkness, he proclaims: ‘he who vindicates is near, the Lord helps me’. So he enters his Passion deliberately, tongue unmoving, ear alert, eyes wide open. The Lord once said of St Gertrude the Great, our thirteenth-­‐century sister, that he loved above all her freedom of heart, libertas cordis. It made her ‘fit, at each moment, to receive my giKs to her’. OKen enough, those giKs were giKs of pa6ent endurance in suffering. Gertrude’s heart was configured to the heart of Christ her Lord. This Holy Week, may the Lord grant us, too, such a heart.