Every Friday, for the duration of the lockdown in South Africa, Bishop Sylvester David will present a prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town (and beyond). Here is his reflection for today, Friday 3 April 2020. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.
Reflection for 3rd April 2020: Day 8 of the National Shutdown.
Topic for reflection: Jerusalem
Lent seems to have moved on very quickly and we will celebrate Palm Sunday in two days. Liturgically we are standing at the threshold of the theatre of our salvation viz. Jerusalem. Because the liturgy makes real what it signifies, we will enter Jerusalem with Jesus. What does Jerusalem mean? A popular notion is that it means the city of peace. I guess that comes from the “salem” part of the word – but the meaning is deeper that that. The first part of this composite word in Latin, Greek and Hebrew refers to priesthood, Temple, holiness and sacrifice. It is the place of the crucifixion and resurrection. It is the place of the upper room, the place of the Eucharist and the place where the Holy Spirit descended. It is the place from where the Apostles were sent. That is why we need to return to Jerusalem over and over again.
In the OT Jerusalem is non negotiable to the faithful Jew. That is what Psalm 137 is all about. “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept” because they wanted us to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land – outside of Jerusalem. Does this lament not reflect our own alienation from community and sacrament at this time? This psalm is very relevant. The psalmist continues, “if I forget you Jerusalem, may my right hand wither, may my tongue cleave to my mouth”. The right hand is the hand with which the person nourished him or herself. If that hand was withered the person was doomed. If the tongue cleaved to the mouth, the person could not speak. In other words, if I cannot speak of Jerusalem I might as well be silent.
This is the week of the two most famous foot washings in history. Prior to Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in John 13, his own feet were washed with the tears of a penitent woman and anointed at Bethany where Lazarus and his two sisters lived. This was an honorific anointing with very costly ointment. Judas realising that this was no ordinary perfume put up resistance calling it a waste – wanting instead to use the money for the poor. John tells us that he was not interested in the poor at all. He was a thief and helped himself from the common fund (Jn 12:5-6). Oscar Wilde, in a play called Lady Windemere’s fan, reminds us that a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. And so Judas fixed a price on the ointment as he would later fix a price on the Lord – selling him for the price of a slave.
Now what else would happen in Jerusalem during holy week? Let us recall past liturgies. Oil will take on a new meaning as will water and fire. Bread and wine will also be imbued with new meaning. If all these elements take on a new significance what a pity it will be if we ourselves do not become renewed and be able to sing a new song. St Augustine teaches that it is only a new person that can rightfully sing a new song. The new song, the new testament, the new covenant and the new person all go together. I wish you a meaningful remembrance of the Lord’s passion.