I found myself undertaking a bizarre shopping experience during this Holy week. Normally, not one to shy away from any type of shop, I am rather hesitant about entering our local B&Q. Too many gardening and DIY implements for my liking that always leave me feeling profoundly inadequate and a little depressed. Well known in my family for my ‘black fingers’, I have even finished off the odd plastic plant due to watering it by mistake and causing mould to grow. So I do not choose to go into these places lightly.
However needs must. To appease my ever creative urges I had decided in my infinite wisdom of being a Priest-in-Charge for a whole 5 months, that this Easter I would give my Church something special to remember and a little bit different from the normal liturgical practice.
Never one to be found during Holy Week scrubbing the altar steps with vinegar and bitter herbs, or spending Good Friday prostrated in front of the altar while someone sets light to their handbag (that is burning holy incense to the secularly confused), finally I had the power to choose how to spend Holy Week. I also have the luxury of serving a church that has had very little liturgical practice in recent years. Basically, I had free reign to do what I liked this week without the constraints of fixed pews and ‘well we usually have 25 services in Holy Week at least’…!
So it was with joy that I planned a Sedar meal for Maundy Thursdayevening after our stirring Chrism Mass in the Cathedral. It was a shame that hardly any of the clergy turned up for the most moving and profound moment of fellowship in our liturgical year. However, our Sedar meal that night was educational and satisfying, both theologically and bodily. My husband can cook a mean 7 hour slow roast lamb.
My other plan was to do a labyrinth for Good Friday morning before the two-hour vigil at the University Chapel. So we set up the Church on Maundy Thursday afternoon. Laying out the labyrinth with masking tape took my poor long-suffering husband and daughter two hours. Well, he was the one who came up with the design!
Five stations, highlighting the most poignant parts of the Stations of the Cross with symbolic actions to do in each, marked the way of the journey. From washing one’s hands like Pilate, to carrying a pebble to the centre (representing helping carrying Jesus’ cross) to make a Cairn of love in front of the Cross at the heart of the labyrinth, it was all good, holy and meditative stuff.
My fourth station was to be the moment of the crucifixion. So to get back to my shopping tale, I found myself in B&Q on Holy Wednesday in the scary and intense ‘Nail’ aisle. I spent ages weighing and feeling the size of the nails. Long, short, thick, thin, pointed and so on. Which would be most effective for the job, I wondered? Then, as I was weighing two nails in my hands, I had one of those moments when you can see yourself from the outside. And I stood there and started laughing. For once, thank God, there was no helpful manny around to see if I needed any advice. Can you just imagine the conversation?
B&Q Manny: ‘Do you need any help today madame?’
Me: ‘Yes thank you kind sir/lady, I wish to purchase some nails.’
B&Q Manny: ‘What will you be using the nails for?’
Me: ‘Crucifying someone, which ones would you recommend?’
But, blessedly, I escaped that potentially tricky encounter, judged some huge and vicious looking nails to be the ones that would do the job most efficiently, and went on my way to gather the rest of my props.
On Maundy Thursday, after the Sedar meal, the folks asked if they could walk the labyrinth as it was there and ready. By their emotional reactions on leaving the labyrinth, they obviously found the process deeply moving. Even if they were doing it a day early, it seemed a perfectly natural conclusion to the meal.
Those who came on Good Friday morning, found the church bathed in sunshine while they walked a path of darkness and pain. One lady said to me afterwards in tears, that it was nice to be able to have permission to be miserable for once.
At Christmas, convention says that you have to be happy, whereas Easter is a more cathartic time when all emotions are allowed to come to the surface – both happy and sad. And, of course, the antidote to it all is chocolate, worship and resounding choral belting out of that fabulous Easter hymn: ‘Jesus Christ has Risen today’.
Today is Easter Saturday. The world holds its breath in that in-between time of the now and the not yet. Tomorrow, the sun will rise, the tomb stone will be rolled away and the emptiness found within will transform our lives. Misery will be replaced with joy as those cruel nails no longer have any part to play in the greatest gesture of love the world has ever known.
If you only have the time this year to go to one service in Church, make it tomorrow. For what you will find there are the answers to why we do what we do and who we do it for. And, if you are very fortunate, there may be the odd chocolate egg or two to hunt down…
May you know and be blessed by the love of your Maker this Eastertide.