Bishop Philip’s Message for Holy Week 2024

Bishop Philip’s Message for Holy Week 2024

For Holy Week 2024, Bishop Philip reflects on how the ancient wall paintings in Winchester Cathedral’s Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre speak powerfully of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the light of Christ dawning in a dark world. 

Text below:

Here I am in Winchester Cathedral, in the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, which contains two ancient 12th century wall paintings, some of the finest of their kind, depicting the events of Good Friday – one is of Jesus being taken down from the cross, the other of him being laid in the tomb.

During the medieval period, this sort of chapel was used for a specific ritual, to remember the burying of Jesus, and it was one of the most powerful and dramatic parts of Holy Week – the clergy would creep barefoot and on their knees, holding the consecrated sacrament wrapped in a linen shroud which was then ‘buried’ in the Easter Sepulchre.

It was meant to be a physical reminder that Jesus actually died. And if you look at the grim physicality of the image itself, we are reminded that this truly is a dead body. And one for whom those burying him, the disciples, genuinely grieved. Their friend and teacher, killed by the darkness of sin, for they had no clue that Jesus would be raised: despite what Jesus had told them, it came as a complete surprise.

Today many still live in Good Friday with little hope of better times. That’s why this Easter I’m encouraging us to give to support the work of the Anglican-run St. Luke’s Hospital in Nablus on the West Bank. While much that is unholy continues to happen in the Holy Land this is our chance to make at least a small difference.

You can find details of how to give here.

These disciples who buried Jesus had no expectation of resurrection. They entered into the darkness with no expectation of the coming of the light.

It’s fitting, then, that the resurrection painting above our heads in this same chapel was painted quite a while later in the 13th century. Here is Christ in majesty, declaring in the text he holds: ‘I am the salvation of the people’.

For me, this time lag between the creation of the paintings, the delay between the death and the resurrection, reflects the delay in the disciples understanding – and perhaps it even reflects the lag in our own understanding, as we wonder what God is up to when we see so much suffering in the world and in the lives of those we love. As we wait in the silence of Holy Saturday.

And yet Christ does rise from the dead: he is triumphant over sin, death and darkness in the light of that first Easter morning. However much we might lose faith, whatever the personal pain we may be struggling with, however dark this world may seem – his light will dawn.

I experienced that just the other day when I met Sam and Rob, two young men in Winchester Prison who, in what is a very challenging, sometimes dark place, have found the love of God in Jesus. The light has dawned. With him, here and now, they live his resurrection life. They know he is their salvation.

That is the Christian hope that we declare at Easter: Jesus is risen. He is Lord. The darkness is driven away. And his Kingdom will come.

With all my heart I wish you, and all those you love, a blessed and happy Easter.