Ad Clerum on Holy Week

Letter to the Clergy from Interim Bishop Minns

And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross.Matthew 27:31,32

One of the most celebrated journeys in all history is the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Suffering or Sorrows). It is a processional route in the Old City of Jerusalem, believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. The winding route from the former Antonia Fortress to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – a distance of about 600 metres –has been a focal point for pilgrimage for hundreds of years. I have been privileged to visit it a number of times, and even though I know that it is not actually the physical route that Jesus took – Jerusalem has been reduced to rubble a number of times since then – walking along those streets is always a profoundly moving experience.

Today many Christians remember that journey by commemorating the key points along the way as Stations of the Cross. Over the centuries, some of the stations have been given extra-biblical substantiation, but the goal remains the same – to remind us of the costly journey that Jesus took for each one of us and to encourage us to give thanks for His faithfulness.

The first Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) was held in Jerusalem in June, 2008. It was a powerful spiritual movement that mobilized Anglicans from around the world. There were 1,148 lay and clergy participants, including 291 bishops representing millions of faithful Anglican Christians. I was part of the staff support team and tasked with arranging the worship for the conference. The principal venue was a large hotel on the outskirts of the Old City, and I wrestled with the question of how to turn a vast, rather sterile, ballroom into a place of inspirational worship. I knew that we needed a focal point and knew that it had to be a cross. But it needed to be large, almost full size, if it were to provide the necessary focus. I knew immediately where I could find such a cross – along the Via Dolorosa! Many pilgrims carry these almost-life-size wooden crosses as they make their pilgrimage, and I felt confident that I could borrow one for the conference. It proved to be a little more challenging because the owner of the cross-rental service (yes there really is one!) would not agree to a week-long rental. He insisted that we purchase it outright, so we bargained over an equitable price.

We then had to face the practical problem of transporting the cross to the hotel. It was too dangerous to walk, and so we convinced a taxi driver to help us. I will never forget the sight of the small taxi driving slowly with the cross inside ... balanced with one end on the dashboard and the other on the rear window deck, and the horizontal beam sticking out through the windows on both sides of the car. We attracted many curious looks but arrived safely at the hotel. The cross served as a wonderful focal point for our daily worship ... so much so that it was used again for the worship at GAFCON 2013 and 2018.

Holy Week observance has not always been an important part of my faith tradition. In my early years as a Baptist, while Easter was celebrated enthusiastically, the other moments of Holy Week were considered a little too Catholic for too much attention. In the years that have followed, I have grown in my appreciation of the Holy Week events and have fond memories of their observance at the various churches that we have served.

During my time at All Angels Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I was introduced to the writings of Walter Wangerin, Jr., and in particular his Palm Sunday drama, The Cry of the Whole Congregation. It is a simple participatory drama that uses the familiar biblical texts but interprets them with drama and movement and interweaves familiar hymns that draw the worshipper into the very midst of the Passion of Christ. We were blessed with a congregation full of highly talented artists, musicians, and dancers. One year, three of our dancers, all principal ballerinas with the New York City Ballet, offered to choreograph and dance at our Maundy Thursday liturgy. It was an unforgettable experience as they portrayed the events of the night of the Last Supper, with the washing of the disciples’ feet and the ultimate betrayal of Jesus, using their artistry to draw us all into the drama.

At Truro Church in Fairfax Virginia, I inherited a rich tradition of using the artistic gifts of the congregants to underscore the importance of Holy Week. I was able to introduce them to The Cry of the Whole Congregation for our Palm Sunday worship, and it soon became an annual tradition. I was the one, however, to be introduced to the amazing artistry of Edward Knippers. I first knew Ed as my daughter Rachel’s Sunday School teacher and only later discovered that he had a world-wide reputation for his large-scale paintings depicting Biblical themes. I invited him to display his massive painting of the crucified Christ – eighteen feet tall and sixteen feet wide – in the front of the church for our Good Friday observance. The choir added to the splendor of the evening by singing The Seven Last Words, a sacred cantata by Theodore Dubois. It was a powerful and disturbing time as we confronted the awfulness of Christ’s suffering and death, yet presented using beautiful artistry.

Perhaps this is the reason that we dare call it Holy Week. It is filled with the horror of betrayal, torture, and a cruel death, and yet through it we glimpse the glory of the Resurrection and the wonder of life eternal.

I wish you a blessed Holy Week in glorious anticipation of the Day of the Resurrection.

Your brother in Christ,