174a Hoylake Road
Foreword to 2020 Holy Week
“BLACK ROOKS IN RAINY WEATHER”
Sermons do not age well. Nor do they travel. But when I decided to put on our church website for Holy Week 2020 a daily sermon to make Easter this year more of a real ‘live’ event – to be honest, anything to avoid tidying my study during this challenging time of “staying at home” – I was taken back to my experiences working in a hospital in India shortly after the tsunami.
Not just any hospital, however. The Christian Medical College and Hospital in Vellore, South India is a huge sprawling hospital founded by Ida Scudder, an American missionary, over a century ago. It serves not just the poor and sick in the local community but those who travel there for treatment, sometimes on foot, from all over India. When the tsunami hit the coast of south India, inevitably CMC’s community teams were involved from Day One – an amazing team of psychiatrists, social workers, health workers, doctors and nurses who would take the 5-hour journey in minibuses to the affected areas to help the devastated communities rebuild their lives. I was a tiny part of that relief effort along with students from our college in Grimsby, working especially with the children and women. Later we provided new fishing boats for three of the villages. I came to know some of the CMC doctors and nurses – the very people I was then invited to minister to in Holy Week 2005 in the daily services in the large college chapel. It was a humbling experience.
But this is 2020 and you do not want to hear about India. Nevertheless, certain parallels strike me when I read through those sermons again. In the aftermath of the tsunami, there was an atmosphere of uncertainty, fear and, yes, isolation. Easter, it seemed, would never come, for the people of India - or for us today. Then, as now, we were overwhelmed by the statistics of death. But we can drown in statistics. One death is one death too many. And this Holy Week, let us not forget those who face their own personal dark and godless Good Friday. It might not be a virus that threatens to drown your faith; but you may have other crises to face this week, as large in your life as any newspaper headline you will read tomorrow.
Like coronavirus, the tsunami did not need visas or passports to enter a country; the waves too had no consideration of age, creed or status. In Holy Week 2005, I shared worship with weary and traumatised nurses and doctors who were not “clapped home”; fifteen years later, facing similar uncertainty with a timeline that has no finite end, my sense too is that this is no time for Christian triumphalism but to take people – you, the reader – where you are now, accept how you feel and the loneliness or despair you may be facing to go through Jesus’ own journey.
With the caveat of my opening sentence, I will rewrite these sermons but on the same “live” daily basis that was necessary fifteen years ago from the haven of my study on the college campus three miles outside the centre of Vellore. Let us see what parallels may emerge and, more importantly, what new lessons can be learned. “Behold, I am making all things new!”
I have omitted the original published footnotes. These were never intended to be essays. Above all, I hope you do not feel preached at or preached to…as the saying of these unprecedented times goes, “we are all in this together”: something that could not be said of Jesus on his final journey on this broken and suffering earth.
Mike Ward, April 2020.
For copyright reasons, I cannot reproduce Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Black Rooks in Rainy Weather”, on this website, but it is readily accessible on the internet or in many poetry books.