Holy Week: Addresses by Fr Neil Evans

During the first part of the week, our devotions are being led by Fr Neil Evans, Director of Ministry, Diocese of London. See Lent at St Michael & All Angels. If you would like to make a donation to our Lent Charities Appeal in appreciation, you can do so here.


Palm Sunday, March 28th 2021

Click to watch service on Facebook here

They cried out: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’
They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what harm has he done?’ But they shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’

So, I wonder which crowd you most associate with? Which crowd are you in? For that matter, do you even remember what a crowd is?!

Crowds, of course, can happen in different ways now days. The equivalents of crowds can be on social media, they take place with people rallying around a cause, as well as in real life.

Over the past year we have seen real and virtual crowds in Washington at the White House leading up to Joe Biden taking office; in South London ad elsewhere following the murder of Sarah Everard; people protesting about lockdown; Black Lives Matter protests; in Myanmar and Hong Kong; and more. The crowds have been real and virtual.

And the crowds on social media have mounted wholly unsubstantiated claims of election fraud in the US and anti-vaccination scares. But they have also raised millions for the NHS inspired by Captain Sir Tom! Indeed, Crowdfunding is now an established concept on social media.

    Which crowd are you in?

Crowds rally around causes and events from the incredibly appropriate and robust Black Lives Matter to the utterly fraudulent and baseless myth if a stolen election. And crowds can get hijacked by loud voices and strong arm tactics.

Today we witness two crowds. The ‘Hosanna’ crowd and the ‘Crucify’ crowd. Which crowd are you in? The reality is that the likes of you and me can be found in both crowds. We are amongst the joyous crowd who cry Hosanna and with the baying mob who should Crucify. For, how easily does our cheering support fade when things don’t go quite the way we wanted?

The Hosanna crowd wanted a King, a liberator, a hero. But the Crucify mob were disillusioned, angry or jealous; they saw only weakness, failure and rejection. How easy it is to enter the realm of cynicism… We want things done our way.

Palm Sunday is invitation. It is invitation to recognise our frail humanity and know that each of us can get caught up in the crowd; drawn along by words and actions; from not wanting to stand out and be different; but passively agreeing and joining in because it’s easier that way; less effort and it means we won’t be exposed to ridicule or rejection.

Palm Sunday is invitation to follow a Saviour who is not a superhero to wave a sword or magic wand and make everything all right, but rather leads us on the Way of the Cross.

Palm Sunday is invitation to put popular cynicism aside and be  old enough to stand at the foot of the Cross event when we don’t know the outcome, with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome.

    Palm Sunday is invitation to enter into the events of Holy Week

Palm Sunday is invitation to stand alongside the weak, the vulnerable, the people not like us; alongside the cause of justice which will affect and challenge our own pockets, our own status, our own wellbeing and lifestyle.

Palm Sunday is invitation to acknowledge our good fortune in living as privileged Roman Citizens in a hurting and broken world.

Palm Sunday is invitation to enter into the events of Holy Week and know that it is not a story of long ago and far away, but a story of our humanity and our world now, in the midst of global crises; in the midst of death, starvation, slavery, homelessness, way ad inhumanity.

Palm Sunday is invitation to enter into the events of Holy Week and travel with Our Lord to the Cross; invitation not to a series of services one after another, but one Service which begins today and continues through to Easter Day; one Service which we dip in and out of, we immerse ourselves in.

Palm Sunday is invitation to shout Hosanna; to share in the Last Supper; to fall asleep in Gethsemane; to shout Crucify; to stand at the foot of the Cross watching an innocent man dying the agonising death of the Roman Empire9; to lived through the emptiness of Holy Saturday when all seems lost; to be with Mary Magdalene in the garden and know that He is Risen.

Palm Sunday is invitation to you to live these events not as story but as the touching of heaven and earth, in the liminal space which tells us that Holy Week and Easter makes all the difference to my life and your life and the life of the whole world, giving hope and finding ourselves anew in the events which are at the heart of our faith and our lives.

Palm Sunday is invitation; will you commit yourself to the journey? Will you follow the Way of the Cross which leads to agony and hope, from death to life?

Holy Monday, March 29th 2021

Click to watch service on Facebook here

Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was filled with the scent of the ointment.

Monday in Holy Week is invitation to join a dinner party! Do you remember those far off halcyon days when we were able to share a meal with friends…?! Today we are invited to Bethany and for today we can put Covid restrictions aside and join in with a group of friends for a comfortable meal in a relaxed environment.

The Gospels are clear that Jesus has a close relationship with Martha, Mary and Lazarus. There are the well-known stories of the raising of Lazarus and of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet while Martha is busy in the kitchen. With all that has passed between these four we can be certain that there is close bond of love, friendship and respect.

We know, as Jesus does, that this is the calm before the storm. A moment of tranquillity before the events that lead to trial and execution. And perhaps others had a sense of this as well. It was not just the four friends, of course, but clearly the disciples were there, and we have an idea that others were also dropping in.

We can only speculate on the conversation and the dynamics of the occasion… Was Jesus teaching or just relaxing with friends? Lazarus was still a source of curiosity because of his astonishing recovery from death; was he still conscious of this or was he trying to shake off this strange occurrence? Was Mary helping in the kitchen this time or had she and Martha sorted things out?

The invitation to you and me is to enter and be part of this scene at the beginning of Holy Week; a scene of everyday Palestine life; family and friends eating a meal and relaxing together.

And then something extraordinary happens. Extraordinary, embarrassing, extravagant, over the top, wasteful, bizarre. How many other adjectives can I use?!

    What on earth is Mary doing now?

Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was filled with the scent of the ointment.

It’s bad enough that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet when she should have been helping in the kitchen… but what on earth is she doing now? Judas points the finger, but he probably wasn’t alone in thinking it. Even from the perspective of 2,000 years I cannot believe that everyone was sitting around thinking, ‘Oh, how nice’. It was an outrage!

But from the perspective of 2,000 years what is truly astonishing is how little this story is dwelt on by theologians. It is one of a relatively small number of stories which is found – in slightly different versions – in each of the four Gospels. And the significance is immense.

The Messiah literally means ‘The Anointed One’, and anointing has a deep tradition throughout Jewish history. Saul, David and Solomon were anointed Kings of Israel and anointing remains with us today. Oils of anointing are blessed by the bishop on Maundy Thursday; baptism candidates, the sick and dying, monarchs, priests, confirmands, are anointed.

Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One, is anointed at a relaxed dinner party with friends; the calm before the storm, by Mary of Bethany. No wonder this event has been and is downplayed. It is the woman who sat at Jesus’ feet who publicly declares him as the Messiah, the Anointed One.

We don’t know her motivation: was it a planned act or done on a whim. Did she have any idea of what she was doing or was it a gut, visceral reaction to a situation? What is clear is that Jesus is called ‘Messiah’, the Anointed One’ and this is the only record, featured in all four Gospels, of anointing… by a woman… in first century Palestine… immediately before his Passion, Death and Resurrection. Jesus is anointed Messiah, King.

Mary of Bethany stands out, far out and far above, in a line going back to Samuel, Zadok and Nathan and through to Archbishops anointing monarchs. At a simple, relaxed, dinner party Mary of Bethany proclaims Jesus as Messiah; the Anointed One.

Monday in Holy Week is invitation to see the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary. A relaxed dinner party with friends and Jesus is Anointed as King, as Messiah. Mary of Bethany is channel of God’s grace; from sitting at Jesus’ feet to proclaiming him as the Christ of God. For actions speak so much louder than words.

Monday in Holy Week is invitation to each of us to seek out the extraordinary workings of God in the ordinary, day to day of each of our lives. As we follow in the way of the cross might we, too, be open to being channels of God’s grace.


Holy Tuesday, March 30th 2021

Click to watch service on Facebook here

Peter said to Jesus, ‘Why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ 38 ‘Lay down your life for me?’ answered Jesus. ‘In all truth I tell you, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.’ John 13:37-38

Tuesday in Holy Week is invitation to join a very different meal to yesterday. And the invitation is to look behind the scenes and beyond the table. The meal and the associated actions and remembrance is for Maundy Thursday.

On Palm Sunday the invitation was to join the crowd and to enter into the whole experience of Holy Week. Yesterday the invitation was to join a dinner party and associate ourselves with the extraordinary events which took place at it. Today the invitation is to join an interesting – and at times rather dysfunctional – group who had followed Jesus through his ministry and now sat down together for a final meal together.

Matthew, Mark and Luke in their description of this Last Supper all dwell on the giving of bread and wine; body and blood. But John, whose Gospel we’ve just heard read, doesn’t mention this element of the Last Supper at all. He talks of foot washing, of the new commandment, that we should love one another, and of much more. For St John, Jesus’ invitation at the Last Supper is for the disciples – and us – to consider how we relate to one another, how we treat one another. And how God reaches out in love.

The Last Supper for John is the opportunity for the so-called ‘Farewell Discourse’; Jesus basically telling his disciples how they should carry themselves in a harsh and often unforgiving world, lacking in love, hope and peace.

In accepting the invitation to join this group at this point in their following of Jesus we can see their fractures and dysfunctionality. Jesus’ patience and heart-wrenching love for them is supreme, but we see Judas leaving – with Jesus’ full knowledge – to betray him. We see Peter (or perhaps Tigger, for Winnie the Pooh fans) desperately trying to get it right and bouncing in with rash commitments that Jesus knows he can’t carry through.

In St Luke’s Gospel we see an argument at this – from our perspective – profound moment, about which of them is the greatest! A jostling for position. And we see a complete lack of subtlety on the disciples’ part when they really think that swords are what Jesus wants.

And the invitation of the Gospel writers is to sit at table with this group and see their confusion, their lack of understanding, their desperate keenness to get it right and in so many ways getting it horribly wrong. They fall asleep at the very moment Jesus wants them to watch and pray; they run away when things hot up.

    Would you stay awake or fall asleep in the garden?

The invitation is to see a group doing what groups do when put under intense pressure. And the invitation is to see Jesus, with the patience and presence of the true leader, holding them, teaching them and giving them sustenance for the journey he knows will take place when he is taken from them.

If you accept the invitation, and stand as a part of that group, how does it feel? How would you react? Would you jostle for position, leap in with rash promises, dig out your sword? Would you stay awake or fall asleep in the garden? Would you stick with Jesus when he was arrested and say, ‘I’m with him’; or would you run away? Would you be brave enough to stand at the foot of the Cross with Mary Magdalene or would you be terrified, cowering in a corner?

I have a horrible feeling I know the answers to those questions for myself, however much I want it to be otherwise. But the astonishing reality is that in accepting the invitation to stand with this group – and perhaps run away – Jesus doesn’t reject us, but carries on loving, leading and finally commissioning. He just wants us to recognise our frailty and ask for forgiveness; seek his loving acceptance.

We, of course, don’t know how we would react until we are tested, and pray God we will never be tested as that group of disciples were. But the invitation is for us to consider how we carry ourselves in all situations in our lives.

The German Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemöller, in his famous confession when recognising his own – and others – failures to stand up to Hitler, said:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

The group instinct is for self-preservation and will generally look inwards. Jesus’ radical leadership of this group led them, through their failures and through the Cross, to look outwards and set the way for what the church should be today. In the words of Archbishop William Temple: The Church exists primarily for the sake of those who are still outside it.

In accepting the invitation to stand with that rag-tag, dysfunctional group of disciples we are also invited to learn with them that the purpose of the group, the purpose of following Jesus, is for the benefit of the world and not the preservation of a neat, cosy club.


Holy Wednesday, March 31st 2021

Click to watch service on Facebook here

Then one of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?’ They paid him thirty silver pieces Matthew 26:14-15

Wednesday in Holy Week is invitation to stand alongside two key disciples in the passion narrative, and perhaps look at the world through their eyes… or try to.

So far this Holy Week, the invitation has been to join the ‘Hosanna’ and the ‘Crucify’ crowds, to attend a dinner party and to experience the dynamic of the group of disciples. Today the invitation is to stand with Judas Iscariot and with Simon Peter, and wonder what is going on for them. And neither will be a comfortable place to stand.

The Gospels – and St John’s Gospel particularly – seem pretty clear that Judas was in it for the money. St John says, quite simply, that Judas was a thief. Which makes it all very simple. But scratching below the surface may suggest that life is not so simple. Can it really be true that he has been with the others for three years and only Jesus has sussed him out? Yes, he certainly could have been a very clever con man… But I do wonder.

Various theories have been put forward over the millennia from the extremely unlikely possibility that Jesus asked Judas to betray him to the rather more credible possibilities that he was frustrated with Jesus’ lack of action and was trying to force his hand or that he really was concerned, with the Pharisees, that Jesus’ ministry was upsetting the delicate balance of power between the Jewish and Roman authorities. Ultimately, of course, we simply don’t know what was going on in his head!

What the Gospels agree about was that, having betrayed Jesus, he regretted his actions, attempted to return the money and committed suicide. Not an easy person to stand alongside, though how many of us have done something – hopefully not so extreme – which we have deeply regretted afterwards? I wonder what our reaction, our way of dealing with it was. In accepting the invitation to stand beside Judas Iscariot we might reflect on regrettable decisions and actions we have taken in our own lives…

Perhaps the invitation to stand alongside Peter is a little easier… or is it? I referred to Peter as ‘Tigger’ yesterday, and there does seem to be something of that bouncy, spur-of-the-moment, reacting-before-thinking, what-can-I-do-to-help, quality about Peter. Declaring Jesus as Messiah and then trying to rebuke Jesus for getting it wrong… Lord, you’ll never wash my feet / Oh wash me all over then. I will follow you even to death…

And the ‘I’ll do anything to follow and support you’ swiftly turns into clear emphatic denial that Peter even knew Jesus, let alone was his closest disciple. Now if that’s not betrayal… Is standing alongside Peter so very different from standing alongside Judas? And I wonder whether you have made rash commitments which you have been unable or unwilling to fulfil; I know I have.

    One commits suicide and one becomes the Rock on which the church is built

Does standing alongside Judas and Peter feel so very different? The history of Christian tradition, the reading of the Gospel narratives, tell us that Judas and Peter are very different. But I wonder whether, at the time, it felt so very different being Peter and being Judas? I wonder what was going on for Peter when he realised that he had utterly failed to support Jesus at this crucial time. I wonder whether he was as devastated as Judas clearly was?

So, both deny Jesus. One commits suicide and one becomes the Rock on which the church is built. Extraordinary…

When we have messed up, the hardest person to look in the eye is, of course, ourselves. Modern society looks for people to blame. Blame culture is huge: whether it’s in personal relationships or at international level, the desire seems to be to find someone to blame. Interestingly, though, it seems that neither Judas nor Peter seek this option. Judas takes the option of escape. He cannot, it seems, face up to what he has done and so takes his own life.

Peter, though, carries on. What must it have been for Peter to live through Holy Saturday; the emptiness following Jesus’ death carrying the knowledge that he had let Jesus down? The pain of recognition that he had done nothing, nothing at Jesus’ hour of need despite all his rash promises of support. Jesus turning to Peter in the Courtyard when the cock crowed and knowing he had utterly failed much have been a heavy burden to carry; the look on Jesus’ face would be etched on his memory.

But everything was ok on Easter Sunday morning? Phew, I got away with that one; Jesus lives, so it’s all forgotten? No, not quite that simple. At the lakeside, following the Resurrection, Jesus counters the three-fold denial with the three-fold question to Peter of, ‘Do you love me?’.

The clear difference between standing beside Judas and standing beside Peter is resolution. Judas ran away from his betrayal of Jesus; Peter faced up to his. But it was a process for Peter, not an event. And the process speaks loud and clear to us across space and time.

True forgiveness and acceptance came from recognition and the openness to receive Jesus’ saving love. It was not that Jesus stopped loving Peter, but rather Peter was in danger of putting himself outside the reach of Jesus’ love, as Judas seems to have done. The final resolution comes when Peter accepted Jesus’ embrace in the full knowledge of his denial.

On this Wednesday in Holy Week, the invitation is to stand alongside Peter, facing Jesus in the full recognition that we have failed. And in recognising our failure allowing the loving, forgiving, cherishing embrace of Jesus to fill our lives with hope. Hope in his love, hope in his acceptance, and hope in his forgiveness.

For Holy Week is not a story of long ago and far away, but a story of you and me and now.