In which Ruth looks back on her last Holy Week here

Holy Week is always emotional, exhausting (physically and emotionally), heart-breaking, agonising, messy, grumpy-making at times, and makes you dwell on loss when you’d really rather not. This was all especially true this year as it will be my last here as Rector of Christ Church Falkirk. All through the talks and discussions on the first three days of Holy Week I was so conscious that this would be the last time I’d prepare Holy Week services and try to find something new to say. But the longer you stay with a little flock, the more you get to know them and it becomes easier to ‘pitch’ the sermons, meditations, talks.

eye tearOne of the paintings I used at those first evening services was this one which I think is by Van Eyk. It is so beautifully painted, the detail so fine and realistic. I don’t even know whose eye it is. Anyone out there help? But the tear made real for me how hard it is to leave people behind and move on. When you live and work with a congregation, you get to know them so well. More than in any other job I think. You know their secrets, their hopes and desires, their weaknesses and strengths. You are emotionally involved with them and that is so hard to walk away from. So there have already been tears and I’m sure there will be more as the time comes for me to sever that tie.

On Maundy Thursday we usually wash feet here at Christ Church. They didn’t when I first came – they did hands, I think. But the bible says he washed their feet so that’s what I do. Well that’s what I usually do and it is incredibly moving (and painful when you’re an old woman who’s more than a little overweight!). But a few weeks ago I thought I was having a heart attack. It was all very dramatic and an ambulance was called and needles were plunged into my chest in case it was air in my lungs. It was none of these and I later found out I had costochondritis which is inflammation of the cartilage in my ribs. Not serious, not life-threatening, just very painful and annoying especially when you catch a cold after and sneezing and coughing feels like your ribs are broken! It won’t last for more than a few months (I hope) but I knew I couldn’t wash feet. So it had to be hands. And I know these hands so well from coming to the rail for communion. I know their hardness, their softness, their arthritic bumps and gnarls, their favourite colour of nail polish and all. I will miss those hands.

Then on Good Friday we walked the Stations of the Cross together which we’ve done often over the five and a half years since I came. Each time the journey has been different and moving and this was no different. Even the Stations themselves, given just a few years ago in memory of Fergie who used to sit in the back row and sadly died, were a reminder of the funerals I’ve taken here.

Nelia Ferreira No More The Passion of ChristFollowing that, we looked at many images of the Crucifixion to which I had written meditations. Oh that was hard. Hard to write and hard to say. Another image comes to mind, and it has tears too. It is by Neila Ferreira and is called No More, I think. Mary looking at her son on the cross and stifling a sob of agony. And that’s what I did too as I read these meditations. It is so hard to let go.

And then we went over to the hall to break our fast and scoff hot cross buns as we do every year. And nobody feels much like being jolly and chatty because of what we’ve just been through together.

On Holy Saturday we cleaned and polished and put the church back to some semblance of order for our Easter celebrations. It would be the last time I put the piggy bank under my prie-dieu, put my favourite altar cloth with the beautiful old embroidery on the altar, hoovered the plaster from the crumbly roof. All the wee things that are particular to this place. As I looked at the flowers being displayed I had a wee smile thinking of all the tulips they’ll have once I’ve gone, not having to worry about my phobia for the wretched things.

And then my alarm went off at 5am on Easter Sunday and there was a huge candle to be lit (after several unsuccessful attempts – again!) and a new Exsultet to be proclaimed, and bacon rolls to be scoffed. And I wondered what my new church will do in Holy Week and Easter and how they will celebrate the Resurrection. And in between the services one kind soul topped up the oil in my car and noticed the tyres needing inflated too so did that. Who will do that for me when I go?  Then the Easter bonnets2016-03-27 10.14.09 started to arrive and I dreaded having to choose the winner and those who wore them were glad of the protection when I got out my pump-action water pistol to make sure everyone got a soaking when they renewed their baptismal vows. And the children tooted their tooters for the Gloria all the way through the service and that was just fine. And our little table-altar with candles and chalice and paten was put in the children’s area and I watched them play with it throughout the service and gulped again at the thought that I wouldn’t be here to watch them grow up.

Then in the afternoon our frail elderly and housebound arrived for the Afternoon Tea service and I was accosted over and over again with shouts of “I’ve heard you’re leaving us! How could you?” And that was hard too because I won’t be here for the end of their stories, these lovely folk I’ve taken communion to in their homes. That Sunday was probably the last time I’ll see some of them so that was emotional.

And then I slept. I slept off and on in my chair and I ached. All clergy ache all over after Holy Week and Easter. I’m told its the same feeling you have if you run a marathon. I’m not likely to be able to compare but someone who has, says its just like that. And the rectory is a mess and there are no clean clothes and no food in the fridge and now I have to think about packing it all up. So that’s why this has been an especially emotional Holy Week. Oh don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some laughs. (Not in Holy Week, but throughout my time here.) More than some, actually. Lots. They’ve groaned at my bad jokes like nobody else. So it will be with a mixture of tears and laughter that I will remember my years at Christ Church Falkirk.

 

In which Ruth ponders Passiontide

Tomorrow we enter Passiontide. The statues will be draped with purple cloths and my heart will soar. Yes, I know it is meant to take away any distractions but I love the shape and colour of those purple bags. That one hides the processional cross – a fleurette cross, I learned recently. That one covers the crucifix which looks over me as I preach. I feel its presence still. I can almost hear the solemn pounding of a drum as the build up to Holy Week begins.

A scream rings out. It was me! I’m sure if my GP was to look back through my notes he’d find that I visit round about the same time every year telling her/him that I can’t sleep, I’m really stressed, I’ve come out in a rash, I can’t breathe. One day they will suss that there is a pattern to this and they will wisely nod and say, “It’s okay Ruth. It is just Holy Week coming. You’ve done it before and you’ll do it again. Practice mindfulness, make a list (many lists), pray for your photocopier and all shall be well.”

It is also at this time that I want to make my little flock promise that they won’t miss a single service. The drama of the most wonderful story is about to unfold before your very eyes and you really don’t want to miss any of it. If you miss a bit it would be like someone had cut a chapter out of that fabulous book you’re reading, or had removed all the blue bits from that intriguing jigsaw. Please promise me you won’t miss a bit of it.

There will be much to feed you. Processions with palms, a pilgrimage of Stations, silence and music, study and chatter, feetwashing and a shared meal, drama worthy of the greatest theatre, and a gruelling three hours of Passion. And hot cross buns too!  All of this we must undergo before we can truly ‘get’ the joy of Easter and the Resurrection.

I’m excited that this year we also have the Bishop visiting on Holy Saturday to baptise and confirm. Some of my little flock have said they’d like to affirm the vows they made at their own confirmation because of the Pilgrim Course we’ve been doing. I well remember my own Confirmation classes with Fr Emsley… there was much Church history, as I recall. But at Candlemas I felt like a nun making solemn vows to promise something beyond my comprehension. And it is still beyond my comprehension…

Cross purple cloth

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?

Holy Week and the Easter extravaganza at Christ Church

Oh my goodness! How exhausted are you? Let me tell you, I am absolutely worn out. Anyone who travels Holy Week and Easter with us, or with any others of course, will know exactly what I’m talking about. I always tell my little flock that you can’t turn up on Easter Sunday if you haven’t been through some of the agony of Holy Week – preferably ALL of it. This year was quite different for us for in the past we have hosted an ecumenical Holy Week with various Presbyterian ministers coming to lead our nightly services. However, this year one of them decided that this should come to an end and we should all go our separate ways. On Monday in Holy Week our local RC church always does Stations of the Cross so we left them to it.

Tuesday and Wednesday in Holy Week = We had been having Compline from the Scottish Prayer Book every Sunday night in Lent with meditations and music. So we kept the theme going and used the Compline service but added in the theme of the day, ie The Woman with the Alabaster Jar on Tuesday and Judas on Spy Wednesday. Rev Tim Tunley, the local Chaplain to the Mission to Seafarers in Scotland, is churchless so he came along to help out and we took turns in leading each evening and doing the meditations.  Our choir did a lovely piece each night and who can resist more Passiontide hymns?

Maundy Thursday = We had our usual 10am Eucharist with the oldies (and the not-so-oldies, just in case they read this) after which I dived (dove?)  into my car and hotfooted it to Edinburgh to the cathedral for the Chrism Mass. Nobody had thought to mention all the roadworks and building work going on around the cathedral so parking was a nightmare and I only just made it as the Bishop processed in front of me. Lovely to catch up with clergy and newborn babies. Quick visit to Dad on the way home with his Easter Egg. (Note: there is no point in telling someone with dementia that the egg is to be saved until Sunday.) Then back to Falkirk to see how two members of my little flock had done with making the Garden of Repose for the first time without me bossing them around – and it was beautiful. Then the marathon that is Maundy Thursday: the footwashing (and kissing) and this time Rev Tim did mine; the stripping of the altars which we did differently this year and involved the whole congregation taking the items to the choir vestry at the back of church; Last Supper (on this night); prostration and prayers in the Garden of Repose. It was dark and lovely and stark and lonely, all at the same time.

Good Friday = We blessed our new Stations of the Cross (donated in memory of Fergie Stewart) and walked the Stations through the eyes of Mary the mother of Jesus. Then from 1-3pm we had a series of meditations on people who were at the Cross with hymns and silence. At 3pm we all piled into the hall to enjoy some of Oliphants’ hot cross buns (a local bakery who only makes them in Holy Week and they are much nicer than supermarket ones).  This year I didn’t do anything in the evening because the Church of Scotland were offering services, but I might next year for folk who have to work.

Holy Saturday = The last of our daily Morning Prayers which we’ve enjoyed throughout Lent. We’ve been using readings from Br Ramon’s book When They Crucified My Lord (excellent choice). Then a glorious number moved over to clean and decorate the church for tomorrow. There was dusting and polishing and scouring and flower arranging and brass cleaning and candle-wax removing and Easter Garden creating. I just got in the way really but had fun putting lots of little mini foil eggs in the rood screen.

Easter Sunday = Clocks went forward and my alarm didn’t. Thankfully I had been in bed at 9pm the night before so stirred at 6.15am which just gave me time to leap out of bed, throw on some clothes, brush my teeth and get downstairs for the arrival of the fire. It was cold and crisp and wind-less so perfect for lighting the paschal candle and processing it into the dark church.  As there were only 6 of us it was a small and intimate service but the bacon rolls were great after. Then back to church for 9am service which was larger than usual because of a visiting family. At 10.30am we welcomed baby Lyall and his family for a baptism and the church was full. The Gloria was made all the more wonderful because I had handed out party tooters, rattles, whistles and clappers at the beginning and we made a really joyful noise. I preached on penguins and love and God. (You had to be there.) As we all renew our baptismal vows at Easter I wondered how I could reach everyone with the sprinkling. (We don’t have a holy water bucket and sprinkler here at Christ Church.) But we now have a pump-action water pistol and it worked a treat. There was screaming and squealing and I managed not to take any eyes out.  Handy tip: do not direct AT people but way above their heads. They will still get wet but not soaked and hurt. This is always good in church. As is the laughter that it generated. After the service there was a lovely Easter cake made by the great-granny of baby Lyall and a wee sherry.

EasterGarden   Easter sermon penguin StationsofX

And after that the Rector collapsed in a heap. Her boys came through and made dinner. Lindt stuff was exchanged. Dreams were achieved.

And the day after that I woke with a sore throat and thus it has remained throughout my holiday. Meh. This happens every time!

Quote of the Day

Today our Book Group is meeting to discuss Take This Bread by Sara Miles (see my comments on when I first read it here). As it is based around St Gregory of Nyssa church in San Francisco I thought I’d have a look at their website and see if there were any videos of worship that I could take along on my tablet to show the group. I found so much to treasure in that website but my favourite quote is this one:

At St Gregory’s, we have two seasons: Easter, and Easter’s coming.

I love that! Especially apt after a glorious Refreshment Sunday with a Soup and Pud lunch that did just that.

DaffCross 0410 w500

Books read

“Are you going away somewhere nice?” my little flock ask when they hear I’m having the week off after Easter.  “Yes, my bed and my reclining chair,” I reply. I mean, who has the energy after Holy Week to even pack a bag, let alone go on a journey that involves concentration of any kind? The post-Easter break is for gentle housework to restore the rectory to the kind of place where you fling open the door and say “Come in!” rather than hastily kicking piles of pew sheets, damp towels, some stations of the cross and a few pounds of nails out of the way.

It is a week of gentle housework which has to be done in stages because there is so much, a week for reading trashy novels that don’t require much in the way of brain cells, of catching up on all those programmes that have been recorded and are taking up all the space on your thingummy, and restocking the fridge and cupboards with food that make meals rather than snacks. It is a week of buying belated birthday cards for all the people you’ve missed in the past few weeks. It is a week of replacing guillotines, glorious staplers, and overheating laminators back to their rightful places in the study. (I’ve still got a way to go on that front.)

But what did you read, Ruth, I hear you cry? Well thank you for asking. I read My Dear, I Wanted To Tell You by Louisa Young. This was bought last year I think when every magazine and book programme seemed to be raving about it. And I do like a WW1 story. ‘Birdsong for the new millennium’ it said on the back. Not quite, I’d say, but it was a nice and gentle read. There was a bit of  Upstairs Downstairs about it – you know, poor boy taken under the wing of wealthy bohemian family and falls in love with the daughter.  Then there is the war stuff when he signs up and quickly rises through the ranks. Well, he is the hero after all.  Alongside their story is the story of another couple but I think I missed the importance of them at the beginning and got a bit fed up with their whining.  But all in all, it was a good read, heartwarming story, and not quite the ‘masterpiece’ I’d been led to believe. 3 stars.

Next was Girl Reading by Katie Ward. Now this one was delicious. It was recommended by the TV Book Club 2012 and it worked for me. Really it is a series of short stories, and I am not a huge fan of the short story. They always leave me wanting more. But in this case, there was a link between the stories in that they were all telling the story of a girl in a painting who is reading. The first painting is The Annunciation by Simone Martini in 1333 and then is followed by six other portraits, six artists, six women reading.  (The pic opposite is the second girl – in Pieter Janssens Elinga’s Woman Reading, 1668.)  It is incredibly clever and unlike anything I’ve ever read. It is almost meditative in style because there is no speech, as such, but any speech is written in with the text, if that makes sense. The book could do with prints of the paintings and photos in the cover as I had to go and look them up, but then some of them are in the imagination of the author so I stopped worrying about the picture and just immersed myself in the scene she sets. The last chapter is set in the future and is just as evocative as the others. If you love art, you’ll love this book. I have often stood in an art gallery and wondered about the story behind the painting. If you have too, then this is a book that will thrill you to bits.  I read it almost too quickly so it will stay on the shelf to be re-read in the future, more slowly and savouring every word. 5 stars.

Finally I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins because everyone seems to be talking about it. It is fantasy, a genre I’m not terribly familiar with, but I couldn’t put it down. Is it written for teenage girls? Who cares? It is a great story and would make a wonderful book group book because of the themes therein: loyalty, sacrifice, friendship, love, and martyrdom. Again it is set in the future, where young people from each sector are selected annually to fight to the death. I know this has already been made into a movie and can see that it would work really well visually. Knowing that it is the first part of a trilogy still surprised me at the end because so much was left unsaid, so I’m going to have to read the other two now.  Highly recommended for young people and adults alike. 4.5 stars.

 

Holy Week and Easter at Christ Church

Alleluia! He is risen!  And what a lovely sound it turned out to be when all the Alleluias were waved in church yesterday. We had buried them at the beginning of Lent – some smallish pieces of white paper with ALLELUIA written on them. They were put in a box and tied up with a bow because we know those Alleluias like to escape when they can. But lo and behold, yesterday they had been transformed into 100 brightly coloured enormous ALLELUIAS which everyone had to wave whenever we said the word. I just didn’t expect the sound. It was like kites cracking, paper snapping, wind rustling in trees, a cacophony of sound.  And the two who were the best at waving their ALLELUIA won a Fair Trade Real Easter Egg. (It would have been three if I hadn’t scoffed one earlier in Holy Week!)

But let’s go back a bit to the beginning of Holy Week. Here in Falkirk there is a tradition of doing Holy Week ecumenically. I shall confess that I struggle a bit with this. Partly because I have been used to doing it on my own and there is nothing quite like the continuity of one person leading you through the journey that is Holy Week. This year I had Maundy Thursday to do, and the Vigil on Sat night.

Maundy Thursday worked well, I think. The problem last year was where to put the Altar/Garden of Repose and I put it on the Requiem Altar which meant the ecumenical choir had to move out of the side chapel and into the pews. This year I had a dream that it was under the high altar – as the crib is at Christmas – so we tried that and it worked well. There was a lovely ‘Ta-Da’ moment at the stripping of the altars when the frontal was removed to show the garden and once the candles were lit it looked divine.  And there is always that lingering smell of Geranium oil which I put in the footwashing jug. However, I can’t get people to stay.  Three of us did for a while but the ecumenical choir marched out as soon as the last hymn was sung, some not even looking at the Garden of Repose. Everyone else followed. Need to work on that next year.

Last year I did the 3 hours on Good Friday but this year someone suggested we do it ecumenically too. I agreed. As it turned out it didn’t really work out because one was ill (not his fault) and I couldn’t fill the other spaces. However we did use The Nail by Stephen Cottrell which was fantastic and well received. And there is nothing quite like 3 hours worth of Passiontide hymns. Aren’t they the best?

This year I also changed the Saturday Vigil because I did it last year and I just don’t think people get that this is the first mass of Easter – at 9.30pm in the evening.  I decided to do an early morning Vigil at 6am so that left me with the problem of what to do on the Saturday night. If I’d thought sooner I would have cancelled it because really there is no liturgy for Holy Saturday but they were all expecting something. In the end, I did three short meditations on Waiting, on Judas, and on Mary interspersed with some music to listen to. (Arvo Part’s Fratres for Strings and Percussion, Alison Moyet’s When I Am Laid In Earth, Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater (Michael Chance) and a lovely Jewish song which is so haunting.) The church was in darkness and it got darker until I could hardly read the words.

So with less to do in Holy Week you’d think that I had a pretty easy time. But no! Who was the mug who accepted an invitation from BBC Radio Scotland to make four programmes for their New Every Morning slot?  Four scripts needed by Good Friday, in fact. AAgghh. Won’t make that mistake again!

Then yesterday we had a baptism of baby Ruaridh before his family move abroad for a couple of years. It was absolutely glorious to have some lovely visitors in church, to have the baptism, to soak everyone with water after, and then Bucks Fizz in the hall while the children went on the Easter Egg Hunt.  Baby Ruaridh was the perfect baptism baby – sound asleep when I was handed him, opened his eyes when I tucked him under my oxters, looked startled by the water but then cooried down again and went back off to sleep.  I suspect I actually peaked at the 9am service but with the help of some Berocca Boost we made it through all three services before I really had to sit down. And slept. And slept. (And missed the baptism party – sorry.) And woke when #1 Son arrived to stay at dinner time.

This holiday week I shall tidy the house, fill the cupboards, and then sit down with a good book or three. I do love Easter but it is quite exhausting. But worth every minute.

The holiday is over

It is not really a holiday, this week after Easter. For clergy it is merely a week to recover, to go to bed at a normal hour, to tidy up the detritus from so many services, and to come back down to earth. For me it was also a week to partially recover from a virus of vomiting which struck just before the Saturday Easter Vigil (and continued throughout it too!) It is still lingering just enough to remind me of its presence.

So what did I do? I read and slept and caught up on TV and slept. And ran to and fro to the bathroom, but that’s more knowledge than you needed to have. Speaking of which, I also met with the plumber again, who is now on the congregational roll for he comes to church more often than some members. I did very little, in fact. And I still haven’t found my Easter cards to send but I know they are here somewhere.

And I remembered and planned. I remembered the services in Holy Week and the comments from my little flock. I remembered which bits worked and which bits need changed next time. I remembered little flocks-of-old and Holy Weeks gone by. For each one teaches me something of the mystery of the Passion. And I planned. I planned for next year and we might do it differently. I planned (in my head but not on paper yet) that I would make lists for each service and what I need to take with me to set up. Now if someone were to write a book that had the practicalities needed before each church service, I’d buy it like a shot.

Now today it is back to work. To prepare for tomorrow’s services. To write sermons and look out props. To finish off the study tidy up. Is it too late to send Easter cards, do you think?

Easter Monday

(with homage to Dirty Sexy Ministry blog)

Woke up.

Felt like I’d been hit by a truck. Holy Week is so physical.

Went back to sleep.

Woke up again.  Shuffled, wincing, to kitchen to find table and work surfaces strewn with the debris of Holy Week’s non-meals. Dream of having a ‘clergy spouse’ who waits with meals ready for those snatched moments, who launders clothes, who cleans up, who puts things in order – knowing exactly where to file things so they are found again.

Make coffee and eat a hot cross bun for breakfast, as there is no bread without mould nor milk that doesn’t smell dodgy. Feed cat who is feeling neglected and wants to play with catnip kipper right under your nose at the dining table. Read last week’s Church Times and find all sorts of articles that would have come in handy last week if I’d had time to read it. (Note to Church Times: could you put all your Holy Week and Easter articles in a week early please, when we might actually be able to use them?) Fill dishwasher and switch on. Discover another pile and put them in the queue for next load.

Go to shower and decide the towels are screaming to go in the washing machine. Put them in the ever-increasing queue for ‘items to be washed’. Go back to bedroom and hear the bedclothes also screaming with mortification and remember that there are no ironed ones either. Get dressed in scruffy cleaning-the-house clothes, and ignore hair-sticking-up-in-all-directions. Remember that the pulled muscle which you got when lifting down a heavy candlestick needs some painkillers so go to take some paracetamol and have a wee sit down until it works.

Doze in chair in sun.

Check emails and half-heartedly answer a few overdue ones. Check Facebook and look at advice to sit in the sun and read a trashy novel. Sounds good. But realise that I have turned into my mother and cannot sit in messy house without doing something about the immediate stuff.

Find Easter cards unwritten. They can wait.

Iron bed linen.

Sit down for a rest.

Iron and starch assorted church linens which seem to have found their way into the house with other accoutrements of stripping of altars.

Sit down and eat some Easter egg. That’ll do for lunch.

Cat comes to miaow and protest about something but am not exactly sure what. Remember that cat litter tray has not been emptied for some time so stagger down to lift heavy bag of cat litter. Remember pulled muscle in back again and go take more painkillers.

Dream of that ‘clergy wife’ again while waiting for pain to subside. Doze and dream of tidy house.

Phone rings, check it is not work and answer to speak to fellow clergyperson who is also exhausted but had a fried breakfast. Why didn’t I think of that? The perfect Holy Week hangover cure! Compare notes on numbers and highlights of HW and Easter. Feel better.

Change bed. Looks invited but must resist.

Have a wee sit-down and check out what QVC has to offer. Mostly cleaning materials so switch over. Eat more Easter Egg.

Door bell rings so go downstairs and remember I haven’t hoovered up spilled cat litter or spilt stable straw from last week. Don’t ask. Put crown of thorns back in box and wonder where to put it ‘safe’ so that I can find it next year and not spend hours emptying cupboard looking for a cross like I did this year (and never found yet).

As I’m downstairs check email and notice that I have an appointment with my Consultant in an hour. No time to shower or fix hair. Backcomb it instead and go for radical punk look. Squirt copious quantities of perfume on and jump into the car and head off to hospital. Nurse who takes blood says “Love your hair!” and I think perhaps punk hair is good. Have discussion about gay people in the church and nurse is delighted that some of us are all for it. Listen to her story about troublesome gay handsome son. Send up prayer. Discuss stopping smoking with Consultant and he is horrified that GP will do nothing but send me to clinic elsewhere on a day when I can’t go. Discuss how to remember to take pills when it says ‘after meals’ and find out it doesn’t matter. More important to take them.

Come home and have a wee sit down and a fag.

Put out dead flowers from 10th anniversary of ordination 2 weeks ago that have dropped everywhere from coffee table all the way through to the bin. Decide hoovering upstairs can wait until tomorrow. Pray that nobody visits. Wonder how much it would cost to hire ‘clergy wife’ for a week.

Sit down and catch up with TV programmes from 3 weeks ago. Forget to pause it when I fall asleep and wake to wonder why I seem to have lost half an hour of House.

Open fridge to see if there are any ready meals left that are not 3 days out of date. Wonder how accurate the dating thing is anyway. Remember vomiting during the Easter Vigil and decide not to risk it. Cut off a few slices of lamb and open a tin of baked beans. Finish with out-of-date Diet Choc Mousse and think ‘what the heck’.

Cat sits on lap for first time in a month so can’t really move for the next hour or so. May doze. Miss more important plots in Glee and other catch-up TV. Finish Easter Egg and wonder if I could start on the ones I got for my boys who have not visited… Resist. (Mainly because it would involve getting up and going to bedroom where they are hidden.)

Remember I haven’t hung up bed linen or emptied drier of towels. Trudge downstairs and up even more slowly. Realise I’ve left light on downstairs and decide to leave it on all night.

Remember kind words from little flock on Easter Day and smile. It was all worthwhile.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.