The Fractal and the Cosmic

Wednesday 28th March 2018
Wednesday of Holy Week
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint

We all know from the Skripal case what Russia thinks of its traitors. From the Kremlin to the suburban bedroom, betrayal is the greatest sin of all, adding a degree of opprobrium to the wrong action, which is why Judas holds a unique place in the Holy Week narratives; it was he who specifically betrayed Jesus in a conscious act. Set aside that he can hardly have known anything which the authorities could not have found out for themselves, it is the betrayal that counts against him.

And yet, I think we learn less about ourselves from extreme acts such as murders and examples of gross betrayal than we do from exhibitions of callousness, indifference and self deception; it isn't so much the flat betrayal that we are apt to take part in but the fiddling around at the edges of truth and integrity. Which is why I tend to focus more on the lesser betrayal of Jesus by almost all his followers than on the egregious conduct of Judas who, it seems to me, gets to carry the can.

In a fascinating parallel, the crowd, or the collective view of the man in the street, changes diametrically as it does in the case of Judas; the anticipated triumph over the powers of evil turns over five days into a sequence of apparent folly and certain failure; and this brings us to the nub of the issue. Often, of course, we are hurt by those who break their promises but often the fault lies in our ungrounded or even false expectations of others. We count as betrayal the acts of people who do not do what we want them to do or who do not stick to what we consider to be a purist approach; we are less aware of our own compromises, it seems, than we are of those of others.

Much of what passes for opinion today is the statement of unsubstantiated personal preference; we live in an age which is deeply suspicious of evidence, valuing personal experience over the pronouncements of experts; but in reading the accounts of Holy Week we are not faced with that contradiction; we can be our own experts by reading slowly and carefully what Jesus said and did because it is only from study and prayer that we can draw out the significance of the events of that turbulent week. It is not what we think that counts but the evidence in the Gospels and the understanding of the early followers of Jesus, notably Saint Paul. We can only get to the cosmic if we start with the fractal.

Last Sunday, Gerry asked who we thought we were on Palm Sunday and it is a question we might ask at any point in Holy Week. in an abstract sort of way, I think of myself as a solder knocking in nails because it is human sin that knocks the nails in; but the figure I would like to be, running in the background of these events, who never gets a mention until the end, is Mary Magdalen - and not just because of the new film - because for me she represents the service and support that must have been going on throughout the whole week and which we see in the dogged gathering of the women near the Cross. When all the mood swings were in progress, there was still food to be cooked and egos to be soothed and, if the Last Supper was a Passover Meal, as the Synoptic Gospels indicate, as a family meal it could not have simply been eaten by the men. And so, you see, although there is a danger that Holy Week will slide past with a routine reading and gesture, it always has something new to offer.