Yesterday I did Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2. Normally, you have to be in the studio at Western House in London to do this piece. However, yesterday Zoe Ball was standing in for Chris, and we couldn't make the holiday train schedule work to get me back to Bradford afterwards. So, I was asked to do it from the studio in Leeds. Which I did.
Imagine my grief when I got in and heard that the studio guests were the very funny Ross Noble and the magnificent Neil Finn. I have every Crowded House album and every Neil Finn solo album. And the stuff he has done with his brother. And there he was, performing live in the studio. And I was in Leeds. Oh, mercy…
It was while listening to Neil Finn singing Distant Sun that I remembered the first time I heard Together Alone – still my favourite Crowded House album. If you haven't heard it and loved it, you are a Philistine!
Anyway, 'together alone' seems a phrase that resonates through Holy Week to Easter and beyond.
- Jesus is surrounded by friends, but is totally alone in understanding the reality the others cannot begin to imagine or to face.
- Jesus celebrates with his friends, resignifying the meal and the story it tells; but, he is alone in seeing what it all means.
- Surrounded by crowds, Jesus stands alone before Pontius Pilate. Surrounded by crowds, he is tortured and crucified. His friends mostly abandon him.
Yet, the friends are also together alone.
- Judas Iscariot ploughs a lone furrow in betraying the friend who truly knows him and yet not belonging with those who pay him off. He dies alone.
- Peter stands surrounded by people, but experiences the brutal loneliness of realising that he isn't the big man he thought he was. He is isolated, even when faced by a young girl who asks the embarrassing questions.
- The women stay with the agony of watching the man they love die slowly as the object of public humiliation. Surrounded by crowds, they suffer the solitude of grief that cannot be shared.
- In the days following this disaster Jesus's friends hide. In a familiar city they feel isolated and afraid. The company of friends who shared the fear and disillusionment cannot hide the loneliness of fearful mortality.
Being alone in a crowd can be deadly.
Today, Saturday, is a day that has to be lived through. The sheer emptiness should not be avoided. The friends of Jesus woke up on Saturday not knowing that Sunday was coming. And Easter cannot be properly lived or understood unless, first, we have stayed with the empty agony of being together … alone.