By Gisele McKnight
Holy Week at Christ Church Cathedral is a busy time, as it is in every parish in the diocese. The Cathedral’s Maundy Thursday morning service is an opportunity for bishops, priests, deacons and lay leaders to renew vows and have oils blessed.
Bishop David Edwards preached at the Cathedral’s Maundy Thursday morning service and began by lamenting the death of his good friend and fellow priest, Roly Bain. “Holy Roly,” as he was known, was a clown priest in the UK, having resigned as a parish priest to pursue the mission of spreading the gospel through clowning. He performed in churches, football fields, schools, prisons, hospitals and outdoor events and was a beloved fixture in Britain. He set up an organization called Holy Fools to support clown ministry.
Roly was often invited by former Archbishop George Carey to take part in missions, and Bishop David attended one, remembering a solemn procession.
“I was at the back and couldn’t really see what was going on in front,” he said. “But the guy in front was my friend Roly, dressed as a clown, carrying a huge feather duster, and dusting everyone on the way by. He had a ministry as a clown. He did very little ministry inside the church.”
Forty years ago when Roly was in seminary, he no doubt had no idea how his ministry would turn out, said the bishop. But he became a fool for Christ, citing St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4:10 (“We are fools for Christ.”).
“He gave up the parish priesthood, entered circus school and learned how to juggle,” said Bishop David. “There is this call upon us all to be foolish for Christ.”
The bishop went on to talk about servanthood, pointing out that most people with roles in the service are part of some form of accredited ministry, yet noting the whole body of Christ has an accredited ministry.
Citing the example of Roly, he said, “We too may be called in a direction not anticipated — a place beyond our comfort zone where we look or feel foolish. We need to be willing to explore with God and others to find where it is we are called to be foolish.
“I’m not suggesting we all become clowns, but where Roly went — outside the walls of the church, with people who have no idea of what we believe — is where we have to be servants.
“We have to be open to the leading of God, to the oddness of where we might find ourselves and having the willingness to let God bring us comfort when ministry is uncomfortable.”
Maundy Thursday Evening
Later that evening, parishioners gathered for a simple supper at Cathedral Memorial Hall.
Dean Geoffrey Hall described the relevance behind the supper.
“We recognize that Jesus met with his disciples on Maundy Thursday,” he said. “They got together and shared a meal.
“It’s low-key, simply because it’s a solemn week, and a busy week, so it’s meant to be as simple as possible.
“It’s an opportunity for us to get together. It’s friendship maintenance,” he said.
Following the meal, an evening service of Holy Eucharist included a foot washing. Again echoing events in the Gospels, the aim was to recreate some of the features and emotions of the last night of Jesus on earth as a human being.
“The foot-washing goes along with that night,” said Geoffrey. “Jesus rose from the table and washed the feet of his disciples.
“Why? Humility and service. They considered him the master, but he was not too high to serve them. It is a model of servanthood.”
Though Geoffrey has performed foot washing in other parishes, this is the first time he’s done it at the Cathedral.
“I just thought it was time,” he said.
Canon Pat Drummond preached at the service, in keeping with the foot-washing.
“In today’s gospel (John 13), we see Jesus perform the most menial task,” said Pat. “It was the job for a servant. The first thing done upon entry to a home was foot-washing and the lowliest servant performed the task.”
Though regular foot-washing isn’t a task we need require today when we enter a home, there are still plenty of servant ministries to attend to.
“Today, it’s well shown when you get up in the night and sit with a sick person, when you clean up after a dinner, pick up trash — all the annoying tasks, to help where it’s needed, when it’s needed.”
Another feature of the service was the stripping of the altar, which took place at the end.
“We strip the sanctuary of all its ornaments, everything decorative to prepare the church for Good Friday,” said Geoffrey before the service. “The church will gradually get darker as we do that and end in complete darkness and silent departure.
“It’s about the emotional darkness of the night. It’s quite a moving experience and not uncommon to see people leaving in tears.”
As the lights dimmed, Altar Guild members, assisted by Geoffrey and Pat, removed every piece of adornment — vessels, kneeling cushions, candles, wooden pillars, tapestries and so on, as Kelley Hall read passages of scripture.
The stark look of the sanctuary, coupled with the dimmed lights and the readings, made for an emotional, even melancholy, end to the service.
Two more services took place before the end of the week — a Good Friday service and an Easter vigil on Saturday evening.
On Easter morning, the bishop preached on the resurrection of Jesus. He began by recounting an “annoying” story in the Guardian newspaper that asked the question ‘did Jesus exist?’
The eventual answer was yes, he did exist, but the question is not ‘did Jesus live and die?’ The question is, ‘did Jesus die and live?’ said David.
“I could spend the rest of the sermon giving an apologetic about Jesus’ resurrection. No. There would be very little point in our worship this morning if we don’t believe he rose again.”
The challenge, he said, is what do we do with this information and why we need it.
“The biggest insult to humanity and the whole of creation is death,” he said. “It was never intended to be like this. It was always intended to be about life, not death.”
The resurrection is the harbinger of things to come and the earth awaits restoration, he said, with no more death, sorrow or crying.
“Beauty, peace, justice and love — that’s what lies beneath the resurrection,” he said. “Today is a message of hope to all people, that through Christ we have beauty, peace, justice and love in the way God intended.”
As the resurrection demonstrates those qualities to us, so must we demonstrate them to others, he said — “to those for whom there is no life, no beauty, peace, justice and love.”
Bishop David told the story of the Archbishop Justin Welby, who, in his earlier ministry, was the Canon for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral. The reconciliation ministry came about when Coventry Cathedral, heavily bombed in the Second World War, joined with the cathedral in Dresden, Germany, also heavily damaged by bombing, to rebuild.
“The two cathedrals decided to work together,” he said, noting the reconciliation ministry continued through the years.
“Welby’s job was to go to other parts of the world to bring reconciliation,” he said, adding Welby used his background in the oil industry to mediate oil disputes in Nigeria.
Welby was kidnapped four times for his troubles.
The bishop ended his Easter sermon with a challenge.
The church has a much bigger role in life than drawing people into pews, he said.
“Our role also has to be in keeping with the Fourth Mark of Mission — to challenge unjust societies,” he said. “We have to be in that game. We have to stand by the poor, the wealthy too, to show how to live a life with the resurrected Christ.”
Sharing the Good News was an often-heard directive of Jesus. Mary Magdalene, on Easter morning, was told to ‘go tell my brothers.’ The disciples were told to bring the news of forgiveness.
“Our purpose is to gather and to scatter — gather to celebrate Christ, to scatter to take the Good News of beauty, peace, justice and love… We gather to worship, we scatter to serve.”