Prayers for Holy Week and Easter from South Africa

Three prayers shared by Isobel de Gruchy from her forthcoming book:  
Between Heaven and Earth, Poems, Prayers, Pictures

In Remembrance of Her (Mark 14: 3-9) Maundy Thursday

Mark knew the story;
the story of how the woman poured
her perfume over Jesus’ head;
how those sitting at table were shocked;
how an angry murmur rose and
crescendoed into a righteous protest –
“Just think how many poor could have been fed,
in place of this wanton and wasteful act!”

And how Jesus, not angry, not embarrassed,
but touched to tears, looked at her,
looked at the men, his close companions,
and said, “You still can’t see it, can you?
You have walked with me for so long,
and you still can’t see it;
but she understands,
she knows what I must do –
she has anointed my body for burial;
and wherever my story is told
this story will be told
in remembrance of her.”

Mark knew the story;
and told the story
in remembrance of her:
But in remembrance of whom?

Easter Prayer (for Good Friday)

Lord, I see the beauty of your world,
the sparkling turquoise of the sea,
the solid mass of the mountains,
the fragile loveliness of a flower,
and I can praise you.

But there is that other ugly world
that frightens me –
it overwhelms me, renders me helpless:
that world where people are prisoners to poverty:
violence and misery mark the measure of their lives;
they trudge an endless treadmill
without a break – to stop is to fall off
into worse – a dark and bottomless pit.

I can’t bear to hear about it, to think about it
I can’t think how – do I even care enough? – to act.
Lord, it is Good Friday – bad Friday – writ large,
Bad Friday, Black Saturday repeated,
endlessly, like the treadmill.

We need Easter, Lord,
send Easter! – to the city’s slums
to the shacks, to the shebeens,
to the country’s desolation,
to the hearts and minds and wills of all.
Break upon our world with Easter.
Break open our world with Easter.

*A shebeen is a drinking shack in the township

Easter Message, 2010

My ears hear words
to which my mind responds –
words that I have long accepted –
but my heart now shuts them out:
“Jesus Christ is Risen!”
“Death has been conquered,
has been swallowed up in victory!”
“Death has lost its sting!”

My heart knows that death
still has the power to yank
the carpet of every certainty
from under my feet and leave
me in desperate disarray.
My heart knows that death still stings,
still explodes like a bomb into my life
and changes everything forever.
My heart knows that in the midst of life
there is death –
murder, violence, accidents, disease,
earthquakes and floods:
But must death have the last word?

Can I look from the heap of rubble
where I am lying
and see life?
Are there arms reached out to lift me up? –
Someone to say –
“Walk on, I am with you:
in your weakness, rely on my strength –
it is sufficient for you.
Hang in there – for nothing – not even death,
can separate you from God’s love –
Hang in there – till your heart
can be open to hear.”

And hang in there I must –
for who else has the words of life?
Hang in there I will –
O God, help me.

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