It is only now that I feel awake enough to reflect on the highs and lows of last week’s Holy Adventure. When you are in full-time ministry and hit the busy liturgical times of Christmas and Easter, time seems to take on new meaning.
It is amazing the amount you can fit into one day that, unsurprisingly, only has the same 24 hours in it as it did the week before. Suddenly, time expands and every minute of every hour is squeezed full of services, running around preparing for services, visiting people who inevitably need it during the mad season and generally ensuring that all is running to plan. But there is a down side to this. After the extremes of emotion that this season of liturgical worship encompasses, there is a point where the church is empty, people return home to their families, the candles are blown out and there is nothing left to do. All is done. All is complete.
It is at this point that the weight of ‘perfection’ ministry is felt. After holding it all in, holding everything together and holding all up, clergy let go and face the reality that God is a hard taskmaster. Utter, complete and total exhaustion results. The kind where all you can do is crawl back under the duvet and pray that it passes. Once this does, and it always does, then there is time to think, to pray and to reflect on what worked, what didn’t work and what could be improved on for next year. Because – that is the joy of our liturgical calendar – we get to do it all over again next year!
So having now reached the point where I can hold a semi-coherant conversation with my nearest and dearest, where I can sit down without falling asleep and, where I can actually enjoy a glass of wine without it leading to a catatonic state of deep unconsciousness, I am writing my blog on the good and bad parts of my Holy Week.
This was my first experience of running the show on my own. The joy and the freedom! What I didn’t expect was that I actually managed to enter in fully to a wholly authentic experience of journeying with Christ towards his cross.
My Anglican tradition for Holy Week has been full in the past of doing the right thing – making sure that each day is full of deeply poignant moments of the last days of Jesus’ life. In the Anglican church we do this very well with various proper liturgically correct services such as Maundy Thursday stripping of the sanctuary to the Good Friday afternoon vigil. Followed by the madness of making the church clean and ready to receive our Risen Lord and the glorious singing of the Exsultet as we welcome the Light of the World back into the World for Easter Eve and Easter Day. All very jolly good and wholesome meaningful liturgical stuff.
But this year, having the freedom to do as I pleased, I did it differently and found that I was closer to the reality of the Sacrifice and Risen Lord than I have ever been before. Without the constraints of having to do certain services in a certain way I was freed to let my creative senses flow for my small, faithful borrowed flock.
So highlights and lowlights — sharing the Sedar meal with laughter and plans for what we should do in the community over the following year. Then walking the labyrinth on Good Friday, actually walking with Christ towards his cross. Washing my hands with Pilate, carrying Christ’s Cross with Simeon, glimpsing Christ through the crowd with Mary, feeling the weight of the nails as they pressed into my palm, and finally, finally seeing the Cross at the centre but being able to light a candle to remember that our light of the world will never go out.
After the labyrinth, sharing the two hour vigil in a packed University Chapel full of sceptics and faithful. Full of memories and of pain. Full. Then on to Easter Saturday morning.
Tradionally, a day when the church is stripped clean, washed down and polished to within an inch of its holy heart. But my church was full of the Greek Orthadoxs all day celebrating their easter, so I couldn’t get in. They were still there at 8.30pm so nothing could be done. and that, on reflection was exactly right. There was nothing to do. It took going to the Church of Scotland Quiet service on Saturday morning to remind me of that . He is dead. The grave was closed. The Sabbath had come. There was NOTHING to do but wait. No busyness, no cleaning, no preparation just weeping, grief, and waiting.
So what did I do? Well, the tradition in our family after a funeral is (funnily enough) to go shopping. I still have the top that I bought the afternoon of my mother’s funeral. So I went shopping. Wandering round Union Square shopping centre with all the rest of the world it seemed, reminded me that for most people, like after any family funeral, the world carries on. The world shops, breaths, laughs, eats and drinks. Life Goes On. That is good and that is healthy. But part of me wanted to stand there and shout out – ‘Don’t you know he is dead?’ That was a low for me.
But, of course, our story doesn’t end with a death. It ends with life restored to all and for all. So life began again for me walking in the early morning sunshine the Ecumenical Walk of Faith through Old Aberdeen at 7.30am on Easter Sunday Morning. From the gift of seeing seals sunbathing on the Donside Riverbank to wishing the odd early morning dog walker ‘Happy Easter’ followed by a magnificent bacon roll at the Church of Scotland. It was a beautiful and holy start to the best day of the year. Then on to sharing Easter Communion with a full church and singing glorious Easter Hymns in a church filled with daffodils, laughter, Christmas Presents (!) and light.
God is good, he is a hard taskmaster but God is Good. Exhausted but elated my highs and lows of Holy week have been worth every single bruise, strained muscle and blister from walking to see Holy Sunday Seals. Can’t wait for next year…