Holy Week is often an emotional time for the Christian community as we remember the last week of Jesus’ life, from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem to his betrayal by humanity and his ultimate death. Here in Jerusalem, the Holy City of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, one is always aware of the intensity in which the three Abrahamic faith traditions are lived out. Holy Week in Jerusalem is a major event, with Christian pilgrims from around the world arriving to remember the betrayal, death and resurrection of Jesus in the place where it all happened 2000 years ago.
Each person comes to this place bearing the joys and the sorrows of our lives. We bring our hearts to the cross of Jesus.
And so it was that Maundy Thursday coincided with the first anniversary of my mother’s death.
Amidst the ongoing intensity that is so much a part of this place, and amidst the heightened intensity of Holy Week and of all that Holy Week means, I remembered my mother, a woman who gave me the gifts of life, of love and of exemplary faith. In life, in death, and in life beyond death, Mum’s loving and inspiring presence abides. And yet, in my own humanity, my heart aches as I miss her physical presence.
For reasons I do not completely understand, I wanted to mark this occasion in some way. We were on a bus, on the way back from a Maundy Thursday communion service at Sabeel, a Palestinian Liberation Theology centre. Fighting back tears, I decided to stop at the local florist and buy a rose. Composing myself, I walked into the shop and asked the florist for the price of a rose. Assured that I had enough money in my pocket to cover the cost, I said that I would like to buy one single long stemmed rose. He showed me their vast assortment of roses, and I chose one particular pink and white rose – without a doubt the most beautiful rose I have ever seen. I gently lifted it out of the pail of water in which it was housed and gave it to the man. He took it in his hands and ever so carefully wrapped the tender rose, before returning it to me. I reached out to pay him and he shook his head. With a smile, he said “Halas,” the Arabic word for “it is enough.” Through my emotion, I could not comprehend what he was saying, and so I attempted to pay him again. “No, no,” he said, “It is free.” Overwhelmed with my own grief, overwhelmed with this unexpected act of kindness from a stranger, and overwhelmed with the multiple paradoxes of this moment in this time and place, I murmured a word of thanks. Cradling the rose in my hands, I left the store.
On the walk home to our placement house, I looked at that most beautiful rose and thought of my mother. I thought of the Christian pilgrims who move from holy site to holy site, on what for them is the “pilgrimage of a lifetime.” I thought of Jesus and the way he lived his life, reaching out and living God’s love to all he met, regardless of the personal cost. And I thought of the kindness of a stranger, a man who recognized that this rose was not simply a table decoration, but a symbol of a great and enduring love that transcends even death.
In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.
Peace, Salaam, Shalom,