Reflection – Tuesday in Holy Week
One of the great joys of the traditional liturgies in Holy Week is the concentration on prophetic readings from the Old Testament. This is actually much more marked in the older rites than in the modern lectionary, as the older rites have only the one lesson, whereas the modern rites give equal prominence to a New Testament reading before the Gospel/Passion reading. Call me old fashioned (which is a compliment!), but I like the more traditional arrangement. It more clearly focusses our minds on the prophecies of Christ and his suffering for our sake, through which the prophets dimly glimpsed the coming nature of God’s redemptive action, not just for his people but for the whole world.
Although this is most clearly seen in the ‘Suffering Servant’ passages from Isaiah, a similar theme of God’s acting in the future to bring salvation to the whole earth and its peoples can be found elsewhere in the Old Testament. Today, for instance, we read a passage from Jeremiah. Prophesies of Jesus and his action can be found, not just in the Prophets but throughout the entire Old Testament, which is the one of the primary reasons it is read in Christian churches. It is not just the record of God’s Chosen People (chosen, of course, for a reason), but rather the witness to the forthcoming culmination of God’s redemptive action in his entry into the world for our sake.
Many Christians wrongly view the Old Testament as being irrelevant to their faith and lives, which is a great pity indeed. Not only do we find details concerning God’s relationship with an often contrary people in the ancient Middle East, but also much which is of direct concern to humanity’s encounter with the living God, not least is his concern for justice (especially on an economic and societal level) and mercy, as well as his great love for us.
Holy Week’s focus on the prophetic dimension reminds us that we have good cause to glorify God for his plan for all of humanity. The salvation brought to us by Christ’s sacrificial love on the Cross is not merely an ‘emergency first aid’ work by God, but part of his plan from the very beginning. So great is God’s love for us that, even if we had never sinned and needed a salvation we could not provide ourselves, that love would have led him to still take on human flesh and live among us. So speculated many of the early Fathers of the Church, especially in the East.
As we follow Christ on his journey to the Cross this week, we must remind ourselves that this was not so much something which happened to Christ, as something which he willed from the very beginning, as is so graphically portrayed in Rublev’s great icon of The Old Testament Trinity. Let us read the Old Testament prophecies of this week’s liturgies with renewed insight and understanding, marvelling at the great love they show for us.