In which Ruth gets physical

There is nothing quite like Holy Week for making you ache in places you didn’t even know existed. It is so ‘physical’ all that standing and bending and washing and stripping (yes, stripping!) and waiting and dusting and polishing and all the rest that makes up Holy Week in church. Oh, and my brain hurts too. And let me tell you how hard it is to write an Easter sermon when you are hurting and aching and still in the depths of Holy Saturday.

It really begins with the footwashing. I don’t know how many I did this year but it was much more than in the past. This is not a complaint, by the way. There is nothing I like better than washing my little flock’s feet. It is an honour and a privilege. But next year I’m either going for a milking stool to sit on or gardeners’ knee pads in place under my alb. Or maybe one of those lovely prayer stools… As a result my knees feel like those of Elizabeth who has never been able to kneel at the altar and is now in a wheelchair. How tempting is that wheelchair! I even chickened out of a full prostration at the Altar of Repose for fear that I’d never get up again. Certainly not gracefully.

Good Friday was long but well attended. It began with the early delivery (7.30am) of the hot cross buns from Oliphants the Bakers. How I resisted one for breakfast, I’ll never know. But there is something quite beautiful about the church in all its starkness, naked of all adornments. I wouldn’t want it every week, you understand. But when it lies empty on Good Friday it certainly focuses the mind.

Today we began in church again for Morning Prayer, the last time we’ll say it together until Advent which seems such a long time away. I do so love having someone to say the Office with. Then it was a mad frenzy of polishing and dusting and wheezing (and an out-of-date inhaler!) and all the rest to make the church as beautiful as possible for tomorrow. There’s been a slight hiccup with the Paschal Candle transfer which I’m waiting to attend to. (I have told them I’ve never done it before as there was always a wise wee pixie to help out, but it looks like my time has come.)

And I ache. From head to toe I hurt. It seems churlish to mention it but there it is. But it is all worth it – or rather, it will be tomorrow morning. But for the moment, a transfer, some paracetamol, a small snooze, and before you know it the dawn will arise and who knows what will happen then?

Gardenof Repose

How to do Holy Week

Kelvin over on his blog has given a good explanation of Holy Week and how to keep it. We have some variations here in Christ Church Falkirk so let’s share them with you.

You’ve heard me say it before, but my first Holy Week at St Michael & All Saints was something I shall never forget. As the drama unfolded each day it was like the best of dramas where you can’t wait to find out what happens next. It built and built, with colour and symbol and sounds and actions, until I thought I couldn’t take it any more. Does that sound over the top? Yes, but it was. Then finally it was Easter Day and I was ecstatic with the joy of it all. But that would never have happened without the sorrow of Holy Week. I have told my little flocks that ever since. You cannot experience the real joy of Easter, if you haven’t gone through some of the agony of Holy Week. I’ve even threatened not to let people in on Easter Day if I’ve not seen them during the week!

Palm Sunday

entry to jerusalemIt all begins today. Palm Sunday. The day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (or a donkey and a young colt according to our reading this morning, although how he quite rode astride them both, I’m not sure). I’ve never managed a donkey although we did once think about a pantomime horse costume one silly night. Nor have we ever quite managed to get the feeling of a joyful crowd shouting Hosannas as we process round the church waving palms while clutching hymn books and trying to sing All Glory Laud and Honour. It is not easy to sing joyfully, whooping Hosannas, while navigating the rough terrain and the mossy path round Christ Church. The timing never seems to work either. The ones at the front seem to always be singing a different verse from the one at the back and by the time we get back to church we are nowhere near the organist. Passers-by on Kerse Lane en-route to the Bingo look askance. There is no other word for it. Askance.

Today it was raining and we have an elderly congregation so one is ever mindful of pneumonia, broken hips and suchlike. We also had a photographer in church taking pictures for our new website and I’m afraid this vain rector didn’t want a pile of photos with flat or frizzy hair, so the procession was called off. I suspect my little flock were mightily relieved but the deal was that we sang All Glory etc with gusto and smiley faces. I’ll let you know how the photos look…

There is no sermon on Palm Sunday but instead we read the Passion Narrative (this year from Matthew). In the past we have done it with 3 or more voices but this year we used the version where the people, the Body of Christ, read the words of Christ. It didn’t work so well at the 9am service with 5 voices (one with a cough, one too shy to speak, one fast talker, one moved by it all into silence, and one valiantly trying at the front) but with a full church it was beautiful and very emotional. (Even the photographer thought so!)

Palm crosses have been taken home as bookmarks, wall decorations, or propped behind pictures or crosses. They will come back again next year just before Ash Wednesday when they will be burned to make the ash we use. Judging by the amount we gave out, many took extras for friends and family too. I don’t have a problem with that.

Monday of Holy Weekmysteries

On Monday at 7pm we will watch Yiimimangaliso The Mysteries, a South African theatre production filmed at the Heritage Theatre. Ive shown it before in church and it never fails to move people greatly. Based on the Chester medieval mystery plays, it starts with Adam and Eve and builds to the life of Christ. The actors speak in English, Zulu, Africaans, Xhosa (the clicking one) and even Latin. You might think you won’t understand but somehow you do, the stories being so familiar. Some of it is very funny, some of it joyful and then harrowing. Perfect for Holy Week.

Tuesday of Holy Week

This evening at 7.30pm we will gather in the hall for Stations of the Cross with a difference. This time people will get a chance to really meditate on each station and even write down what they are thinking. I’ve never done this before and hope it works.

Wednesday of Holy Week

This evening we will begin with coffee and cake before setting down for some Breathing Space. We will have an hour of shared silence in church away from all the busyness of week. If, like me, you struggle with silence then you are free to bring your knitting, your book, or your journal if you want to write down your feelings. Our themes of course, are the woman who washed Jesus’ feet and Judas who thought she was too extravagant, and then his betrayal. We will finish with Jewish Night Prayer.

Maundy Thursday

wash feet blueAnd so the Triduum begins. And tonight’s service is packed full of action. The gospel is long so we intersperse it throughout the service. We begin with the footwashing when I wait at the steps to the sanctuary and wonder if someone will come and bare their foot for washing. Nobody wants to do it. It is such a vulnerable thing, showing your feet in such an intimate way. But such an honour for me to do it. That’s what I’m here for, after all – to wash my little flock’s feet, to serve, to kneel before them. And yes, I do tell them every year that I have the ugliest feet in the world so they mustn’t feel bad about showing me their’s.

Then we share the Last Supper. What do I remember from my first Holy Week? The words “On this night, this very night” for this is the night we remember every week, every eucharist. Those words really brought it home to me and make it very special. (*Shivers* just thinking about it!) As ever, all the bread and wine is consumed – from the tabernacle too – all but one wafer which is the body of Christ.

The first time I watched the altar being stripped it blew my mind. Just as the story tells us Christ is stripped of his clothes, so the altar and all adornments from the sanctuary are removed. I’ve done it in churches myself, or with my servers while the congregation watch. But at St Mark’s Portobello they had a tradition of the whole congregation coming to take each item away to a wee room. Last year we tried that here and it worked well. Instead of everything being piled into the Sacristy, it was all taken down the aisle to the choir vestry where there is more room.  This is done in silence while Psalm 22 is read. The lights are put out one by one until all is gone and I am left with the last consecrated host, representing Christ, which is taken to the Garden of Repose which has been set up in the Lady Chapel at the Requiem Altar.

We then move into the Garden to watch and wait. The last year before I was ordained I spent Holy Week in Mirfield at the Community of the Resurrection. On Maundy Thursday the Garden of Repose was below the main church in a crypt. As we walked into the chapel in the darkness there was an altar in the middle of the room bedecked in white cloths with white flowers and candles everywhere. It was breathtaking in its simplicity and I may have gasped aloud. Over the years I’ve tried to recreate that altar, that garden of repose. The problem is that on Maundy Thursday I always have a eucharist in the morning and then have to dash into Edinburgh to our cathedral for the Chrism Mass. This is a really important service for me, not only because we collect the oils we will use for baptism and healing throughout the year, but also because at this service all the clergy of the diocese renew their ordination vows. For reasons I won’t go in to here, this is a service I don’t want to miss and it is always goodAltarRepose092 to catch up with other clergy and share news and stories which we do over lunch. So by the time I get back to my place and then create the Garden of Repose, which can take hours, I’m left ready for a night on, not the very physical service that is about to happen. This year I’m going to try something more simple for my own health’s sake!

In my old church we sat through the night keeping vigil with Jesus in the garden. Like the disciples we may have fallen asleep from time to time, but we tried to stay awake. Then in time my home church kept vigil until midnight. Somehow I’ve never managed to encourage my little flock to stay for longer than a few minutes, and at most an hour. But you know, that’s how it is. We stay and pray and we leave in silence, our footsteps echoing in the empty church.

Good Friday

Velazquez crucifixionMy tradition is to keep the three hours between 12noon and 3pm when Jesus hung on the cross in some form of meditation. We usually begin with Stations of the Cross in church singing some of those beautiful Passiontide hymns as we move from Station to Station. Then for two hours we listen to a series of sermon/meditations on the Passion interspersed with hymns or music to listen to. Our organist Margaret is not able to sit and play for three hours so this year we will use recorded music. (See my other blog for the kind of music we use.) In the past I have preached on the Sounds around the Passion, or what the people might be thinking. I’ve also used the Seven Last Words as a basis for meditations. This year I will be thinking about the Cross itself.

People come and go throughout the three hours. Some stay for the whole thing but some SAMSUNGwill come for half an hour or more. This year I’m hoping folk will at least do one complete hour because each hour will have its own theme and it would be good to see it through at least. We then gather in the hall for our very special local baker’s Hot Cross Buns which if you have been fasting on Good Friday is the nectar of the gods. Oliphants the Bakers only produce these delicacies in Holy Week, I think, so they are extra special.

In the past I have usually done something in the evening of Good Friday like the Veneration of the Cross or a Service of Nails but they don’t have a tradition of doing that here. I think because most people in the congregation are retired and prefer not to come out at night again.

Holy Saturday

This is the day when we gather for Morning Prayer and then the big clean up and decoration begins. The church is empty and ready. My job is to clean the altar. Everyone else is bustling about banishing cobwebs, polishing candlesticks, removing wax from candle sticks, creating an Easter Garden and displaying flowers everywhere, all in white and yellow. Stamens are removed from lilies because there is nothing worse than pollen on white vestments. (Yes, we know to remove it with sellotape!) And it doesn’t make me so wheezy and asthmatic around them – a sacrifice I’m prepared to make for lovely lilies.  I love the smell of church on Holy Saturday. Of furniture polish, of starchy fresh linens, and earth from plants, and flowers. Everything smells of newness and growth. Delicious!

Sometimes we keep the Vigil in the evening but it has never been well attended here. Now we wait and rest.

Easter Day

Paschal candle 2011We begin at 7am with the Vigil Fire outside by the Memorial Garden and light the Paschal Candle and carry it into the dark church. The Light of Christ! is sung three times and then we gather round the candle to sing the Exsultet. We listen to the story and say some prayers and then the aroma of bacon rolls calls us to the hall.

After a short feeding frenzy it all kicks off with two Easter extravaganzas. Last year we had a baptism and we renewed our baptismal vows. That usually involves sprinkling a bit of water about so as we had a bunch of kids in church I got an enormous pump-action water pistol to make sure the ones at the back got some of that holy water. It was fabulous. Well, not everyone thought so. Might give it a miss this year. Some day we will fundraise for a holy bucket and aspergillum where I can really splash it about. Or maybe I’ll hunt out a bunch of … what is it you use? Rosemary? Hyssop? Where do you get hyssop in Falkirk?

The Photocopier Prayer

It is that time again. The time when all clergy and church administrators up and down the land look for this prayer.

Parish secretaries and their rectors, too,
Thinking of the bulletins that will ensue,
Drop to their knees and begin to quake,
Praying their copiers will stay awake
Through Maundy Thursday and the rest;
Without behaving as if possessed.
Rectors wonder with uncertainty,
“Should I have purchased the extended warranty?”
Misfeeds, toner woes and a paper jam
Always seem to accompany the Paschal Lamb.
Why this happens is a great unknown
A mystery worthy of the bishop’s throne.
So stoke the incense, say your prayers;
anything to stave off copier repairs.
As the dark shadows of Tenebrae now approach;
may your copier behave without reproach.
And as we begin the Good Friday fast,
May it wait ‘til Low Sunday to breathe its last.

And here is today’s offering from the bowels of our lovely new photocopier all ready to fold and staple. But that’s for another day. Holy Week is almost under control. Almost.

photocopying

Stamina

This morning it occurred to me that clergy really go through Holy Week twice each year. Once when they prepare it, and once when they live it. It is agony, I tell you!

And my advice is never, ever get a new computer the week before Holy Week especially if you are upgrading from a very old one to an, albeit gorgeous, one which has new programmes for you to navigate. 12 hour days become the norm and the Search facility is on overdrive as you realise those updates you did to hard-drives, USB sticks and Drop Box didn’t all quite work as your organised brain had hoped. The one service I had completed for Holy Week, rather smugly it has to be said, has gone into the ether never to return. Unless I dig out that old computer and plug it all in again.

But you know, in the grand scheme of things, it is not that bad. I just need to keep reminding myself that I’m very fortunate really. And pray for Stamina. That’s what we really need this week. Stamina to keep us going through the journey from Palm Sunday to Easter Day.

You can read a bit more over on Beauty from Chaos where I did remember my weekly blog there.

Holy Week

In which Ruth ponders busyness and prayer

I am not doing very well with my daily Lent blog and I’ve even managed to fail at a weekly one over at Beauty from Chaos. Those great plans of getting ahead of myself when things were quiet (ha!) and storing them up just hasn’t happened. The excuses could take up a whole page in themselves: a funeral; meetings; a full day on Deliverance ministry; Lent Groups; sermon writing and re-writing; hymn choosing; desperately trying (unsuccessfully) to get cover for foster-flocks; assisting with Congregational Profiles; and all the other minutiae which takes up a priest’s working week. And the worst thing is that none of it has felt very holy.

It hasn’t helped that I’ve been re-reading Easter for our Book Group. There’s nothing like reading about a priest in crisis for bringing you down. Arditti is so good at observing churchgoers and it has made me wonder what goes on in the heads of my own little flock(s) during services. Of course there are some whom you know well and could probably guess. There are some who are unable to hide what they are thinking from the expression on their faces – and its not always good! But I am sure there is lots going on behind those gorgeous exteriors that I know nothing about. How well do we know our little flocks? And would they want to tell us what’s going on in their heads anyway? Post-Easter resolution is to do more visiting. Crisis ministry is not good for anyone.

I have enjoyed reading Harry Williams’ Becoming What I Am, a little book on prayer. Funnily enough it was a Roman Catholic Redemptorist brother who first introduced him to me. Why do our own theological colleges not teach us about these great writers of the (recent) past? It is so easy to read and, although a little dated, still resonates strongly with me. Today I was reading a bit which has helped me. Let me share it with you:

Von Hugel once said that a very fruitful form of prayer could be compared to sucking a lozenge. What he meant was that instead of selecting passages for meditation…, you read through a suitable book, but not in the ordinary way of getting through it. You read a few lines or a paragraph and then ponder over it. It may say something to you to make you aware of God’s presence, perhaps for the whole ten minutes. Or perhaps the lines you read will keep you going for only a minute or two; then you can go on to the next few lines and try them out. On some days you will find that two lines of the book will fill up ten minutes prayer time, and on other days that you will have to read eight or nine pages. But your aim will be not to swallow what you read immediately as in ordinary reading, but to keep it in your mouth and feel its flavour, as you do a lozenge.

Our job is to put ourselves at God’d disposal by the discipline of regularity, by faithfulness to our rule, and by the use of that common sense without which we can’t do anything. But there our job ends. What happens when we pray is God’s business, not ours. God will give us what he knows is best. And what is best we see in the life of Jesus, in his joy and peace and stillness and confidence and trust. And also in his passion, his bloody sweat, his death and resurrection.

101113-lifestyle-meditation-book-beach-relax-calm-vacation-reading

Jokes for Mothering Sunday

A 96 year old mother was being interviewed about her long life and how she felt about being a Mother all those years.

‘I feel just wonderful,’ was her reply. ‘For the first time since I became a Mother, I no longer have to worry about my children.’

‘How is that?’

‘They’re both in nursing homes’.”

Mothers

* My mother taught me religion.
‘You better pray that spot will come out of the carpet.’

* My mother taught me about time travel.
‘If you don’t straighten up, I’m going to knock you into the middle of next week!’

* My mother taught me about logic.
‘If you fall out of that swing and break your neck, you’re not going to the shops with me.’

* My mother taught me foresight.
‘Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you’re in an accident.’

* My mother taught me about the science of osmosis.
‘Shut your mouth and eat your supper.’

* My mother taught me about contortionism.
‘Will you look at that dirt on the back of your neck?’

* My mother taught me about behaviour modification.
‘Stop acting like your father!’

* My mother taught me about envy.
‘There are millions of less fortunate children in this world who don’t have wonderful parents like you do.’

* My mother taught me ESP.
‘Put your sweater on! Don’t you think I know when you are cold?’

* My mother taught me humour.
‘When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don’t come running to me.’

* My mother taught me how to become an adult.
‘If you don’t eat your vegetables, you’ll never grow up.’

* My mother taught me genetics.
‘You’re just like your father.’

* My mother taught me wisdom.
‘When you get to be my age, you’ll understand.’

* My mother taught me about justice.
‘One day you’ll have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you!

mother superhero

A very spiritual, devout and holy priest dies and is immediately swept up to heaven. St. Peter greets him at the Pearly Gates, and says,
“Hello, Father, we’ve been waiting for you for a long time. Welcome to Heaven! You are very well known here, and as a special reward, because you are such a spiritual and holy man, we’re going to grant you anything you wish even before you enter Heaven. What can I grant you?”

“Well,” the priest says, “I’ve always been a great admirer of the Virgin Mother. I’ve always wanted to talk to her.”

St. Peter nods his head to one side, and lo and behold who should approach the priest but the Virgin Mary!  The priest is beside is himself, and he manages to say,

“Mother, I have always been a great admirer of yours, and have studied everything I could about you and followed your life as best I could. I have studied every painting and portrait ever made of you, and I’ve noticed that you are always portrayed with a slightly sad look on your face. I have always, always wondered what it was that made you sad. Would you please tell me?”

“Honestly?” she asked, with a little pained grimace on her face. “Well…. I was really hoping for a girl.”

unattended children

Mum and Dad were watching TV when Mum said, “I’m tired, and it’s getting late. I think I’ll go to bed.”
She went to the kitchen to make sandwiches for the next day’s lunches. Rinsed out the dishes, took meat out of the freezer for supper the following evening, checked the cereal box levels, filled the sugar container, put spoons and bowls on the table and started the coffee pot for brewing the next morning. She then put some wet clothes in the dryer, put a load of clothes into the wash, ironed a shirt and secured a loose button.
She picked up the game pieces left on the table and put the telephone book back into the drawer. She watered the plants, emptied a wastebasket and hung up a towel to dry. She yawned and stretched and headed for the bedroom.
She stopped by the desk and wrote a note to the teacher, counted out some cash for the school trip, and pulled a textbook out from hiding under the chair. She signed a birthday card for a friend, addressed and stamped the envelope and wrote a quick shopping list. She put both near her purse.
Mum then washed her face with 3 in 1 cleanser, put on her Night cream & age fighting moisturizer, brushed and flossed her teeth and filed her nails.
Dad called out, “I thought you were going to bed.”
“I’m on my way,” she said.
She put some water into the dog’s dish and put the cat outside, then made sure the doors were locked. She looked in on each of the kids and turned out their bedside lamp, hung up a shirt, threw some dirty socks in the hamper, and had a brief conversation with the one up still doing homework.
In her own room, she set the alarm; laid out clothing for the next day, straightened up the shoe rack. She added three things to her 6 most important things to do list. She said her prayers, and visualized the accomplishment of her goals.
About that time, Dad turned off the TV and announced to no one in particular. “I’m going to bed.” And he did…without another thought.