Place, creation and Holy Week

The feet of someone walking on a forested path.
 on February 29, 2024

Holy Week is approaching. It is the time in our church year when we remember the final days of Jesus’ life. We immerse ourselves in his story and walk with him as he journeys from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem to his torture, death and resurrection.

The liturgies of Holy Week remind us of our Christian identity that is grounded in a particular place and at a particular time in history. And if we are open to it, Holy Week can ground us in creation, the landscape upon which the original story and the places where we are situated today unfold. It presents us with an opportunity to experience creation as an integral part of our life as disciples of Christ.

In his book A Christian Theology of Place, Bishop John Inge defines place as “the seat of relations or the place of meeting and activity in the interaction between God and the world.” He argues that “God relates to people in places, and the places are not irrelevant to that relationship but, rather, are integral to divine human encounter.” Place not only includes relationships with each other, but also with the land and the natural world. The relationships and activities occur in place, which unfolds in creation.

Place is an integral part of Christian discipleship. It is more than the landscape upon which we worship or the neighbourhoods within which we minister. It is both a physical reality and an internal orientation that longs for relationship rooted in God. Unfortunately, many Christians treat worldly and spiritual matters as distinct and separate realities. This has contributed to us treating our relationships with the natural world as separate and distinct from our relationship with God and our neighbourhoods.

Our current liturgical framework for Holy Week has its origin in fourth-century Jerusalem. Called the Great Week, the final days of Jesus’ life were shared and embodied through stational liturgy. Each day worshippers walked from place to place, church to church throughout Jerusalem, marking the moments of Jesus’ final days. On Palm Sunday, worshippers began their day at the Anastasis (the place of the resurrection), moved to the Martyrium (the tomb), returned to the Anastasis, gathered for a vigil at Eleona (Mount of Olives), walked to the Imbomon (the place of the ascension), then walked from the summit of the Mount to the city and from there through the whole city to the Anastasis. On that day alone, worshippers moved between seven places in and around Jerusalem. As they walked, they prayed, sang, fasted, held silence, held all-night vigils, and walked by candlelight. This level of activity reached a climax on Good Friday with 10 stops.

As they walked, worshippers were formed by the story and became physically, emotionally and spiritually connected to the place of the story. In addition to seeing the buildings, markets and people, they became aware of the natural world in which the story unfolded. They walked on rocky and hilly ground, felt the daytime heat and the chill of cold evenings, their eyesight adjusted to the brilliance of the sun and the sparkling of the stars, and they took refuge from the sun under trees and shrubs. The geography of Jerusalem was a formational part of the liturgies of Holy Week.

The Jesus story extends beyond Jerusalem into our places. Our identity as followers of Jesus is deeply connected to the place of Jesus’ life, as well as to place in which we live and move and have our being. Holy Week is an invitation to connect the Jesus story to our experience of God in the places in which we are each situated.

What if we remembered Jesus’ torture, death and resurrection as we walked in our places, while being mindful of our green spaces and their connection (or disconnection) with urban spaces, of the broken and wounded parts of nature and our communities, of those who call our places home?  Perhaps this may help to recapture the significance of place, of the natural world. Perhaps our identity as disciples becomes grounded not only in Jerusalem but also here and now.

This Holy Week, I invite you into a sacred walk. If you can, walk each day of the week. As you walk, recall Jesus’ final days and pay attention to the ground under your feet, to the buildings and roadways, to the trees, the grass (or maybe snow or rain), any creatures, the birdsong, to the people you pass. Notice how this place and the creation upon which it sits connect to the Jesus story. Notice how God is speaking to you in this place.

Blessed walking.


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