A day for thinking about death

Today is Good Friday and the year is 2020. There will never be another Good Friday like this. I hope. Our churches are closed because of the Coronavirus and we are all trying to find ways of keeping the Triduum at home. Some have created prayer spaces with symbols that mean something, some have watched a hundred videos on Facebook and YouTube and some clergy have felt inadequate at the expertise of others. Why didn’t I learn all this IT stuff before the lockdown began? Why didn’t I prepare better? And if someone said that to me I would tell them that doing your best is just fine. But today I’m not hearing it. Today I’m grumpy, and in a bad mood, and I’m missing my Good Friday.

From the first year that I became a Christian Holy Week has been so very special for me. The sights, the sounds, the smells all take me to that place far, far away and long, long ago. Since being ordained I have tried faithfully to share some of that life-changing week with my little flocks. Through Stations of the Cross, art, fasting, meditations, candlelit Compline, preaching the Passion, the Veneration of the Cross, foot-washing, shared meals, prostrating at the Garden of Repose, and the joy of Holy Saturday and cleaning the church and preparing it for Easter Day. I love Holy Week. Yes, it makes me cry. But after the tears come Hot Cross Buns. And you know you have to go through the agony to appreciate the joy of Easter.

Today I’ve been thinking about death. My own death. I am ‘shielding’ at the moment which is the strictest kind of self-isolation for those who have an illness that puts them at high risk of catching the virus. Some people have one illness which puts them at risk. I have a few! I have COPD (lung disease) and Asthma, Diabetes, Liver disease, and I’m on steroids which lower my immune system. So I am being very careful indeed about staying indoors and washing everything over and over again. But there is still a chance I could catch it – when I’m at the doctor’s for blood tests, or at the hospital as I was on Monday. And I know that if I do get Coronavirus I might not survive it. For once I’m not being dramatic, for this is my reality. Usually I am a glass half-full kind of person but today I’m not. Because today, Good Friday, is a day for thinking about death and I can’t help but think of my own.

Many years ago, at the beginning of my ministry, I led an evening on Preparing Your Own Funeral and I’ve repeated them time and time again. It is a subject I am passionate about. I’ve met families who have not even considered that their parent or loved one might die and are totally unprepared for thinking about hymns or burial or cremation or what readings or any of the questions a priest might ask the next of kin. Prepare your own before you go! I’d shout. And people did. And I did. And I told my son where to find it. And I showed him where all my papers are. I could relax. All was in hand.

But things have changed. My hope for a full Requiem with clergy in black vestments and twelve favourite hymns just won’t happen if I should die while restrictions are in place. It may be my boys and a priest at the Crem. It may be short and, I’m sure, sweet but nothing as I’d planned and hoped. And that’s okay. To be honest, I think my boys might prefer it that way.

Speaking to a friend this week who is also ‘shielding’ she told me her GP had phoned to check that she was taking all the instructions seriously to the letter, and did anyone have Power of Attorney, and did she want a DNR put in place. She was shocked and upset. She hadn’t thought about that. And I haven’t either. I know I hope for a good death, a happy death but I also know that not everyone gets that. My mother didn’t. My father didn’t. I don’t want to be resuscitated if there’s no hope. But I haven’t done anything about that yet. I don’t want to die alone or with a stranger holding my hand in their gloved one. I’m not frightened of dying but I am frightened of the physical aspects of it and the emotional ones. Then I listen to the Passion story again and again and wonder why I’m afraid and feel rather silly.

So that’s where I am this Good Friday. I know it will pass. But this is where I am today. Thinking, probably over-thinking, about death. It has been a struggle this Holy Week. I pray that Easter will make it better.

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 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?

In which Ruth is still pondering spiritual fasting

So. Fasting for religious purposes. Do we do it? Have we ever done it? Are we a fish on Friday kind of person? Or just a Good Friday faster? Or perhaps you think the whole thing is nonsense and just for others?

We talked about all those things at our Lent Group this week and I was surprised to hear that nobody else there had ever fasted for religious purposes. I suppose it all depends on which church you grew up in and what you were taught. I was under the impression that pretty much everyone fasted on Good Friday and my friend Sheena and I would go back to her place after the Three Hours in the afternoon, tummies rumbling, and sip water until we could go back in the evening for Creeping to the Cross. We would encourage one another, smoke fags, and hiccup madly. (Our Rector said it didn’t count that we poisoned our bodies with nicotine but we were prepared to argue that point.) And why were there always so many references to food that day everywhere we turned?

Some people in the group did remember fasting before Mass on Sunday. I used to do that too which was not easy, let me tell you, when mass was at 11.30am. Teenage altar servers were known to keel over in a faint regularly and take the contents of the Credence Table with them.

hot cross bunI’m afraid these days I usually only do it until after the Three Hours when I reward myself with a Hot Cross Bun (or two!). The best ones, by the way, are from Oliphants the Bakers in Linlithgow, only made in that week. Not like now when you get them in M&S all year round.

I was doing a bit of research into why people fast and found a table of all the faiths and their reasons. Want to hear what they are? By the time we’d gone through them and finished our Lent Group some went away saying they might actually try it some time.

Baha’i – Fast to focus on love of God and spiritual matters.

Buddhist – Fast as a method of purification. Some fast as a means of freeing the mind, some to aid yogic feats, like generating inner heat.

Roman Catholic – Fast as control of fleshly desires; penance for sins; and solidarity with the poor. In lent to practice austerity; and on Good Friday to commemorate the day Christ suffered.

Easter Orthodox – Fast to strengthen resistance to gluttony, and help open a person to God’s grace.

Hindu – Fast as a way to enhance concentration during meditation or worship, purification for the system, sometimes as a sacrifice.

Jewish – Fast as atonement for sins and/or special requests to God.

Mormon – Fast to be close to God; to concentrate on God and religion; to petition for a specific cause such as healing for one who is sick, or help with making difficult decisions.

Muslim – Some fast every Monday/Thursday because Prophet Muhammad was said to do so; some fast during the month of Sha’baan which precedes Ramadan, and especially during the three days before Ramadan.

Pagan – fast to purify a person energetically; as preparation for magical works; to cleanse from heavy winter food.

Protestant (Evangelical) – Fast for spiritual nourishment; solidarity with poor; as counterbalance to modern consumer culture; or to petition God for special needs.

Protestant – Fast for spiritual improvement or to advance a political or social-justice agenda.

So, do you fast? If so, when and why? Does it help you spiritually?

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!

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.

Walk of Witness or Walk of Shame?

I have a problem with the Walk of Witness. I always have and suspect I always will. And I’m not exactly sure why, but I do know that it makes me very uneasy and I never take part in them.

You know the kind of thing… sometimes/often ecumenical, a group of rather elderly people gather at a church and lug a huge cross along the street to the next church where they might meet another bunch of rather elderly people and so it goes on. Sometimes it ends in a church where there are prayers and a sing-song. Sometimes it ends at the town hall or other public space where prayers are said and hymns are sung (usually quite badly because there is no musical instrument to keep them in line). I believe that this Walk of Witness is to show passers-by that you can tell we are Christians by our grey hair and our large wooden cross and because it is Good Friday and look how we love one another.

And I feel dreadful being so mean minded about it because I know for some people these Walks are terribly important. They believe that they are indeed witnessing to their faith and that people will come to know Jesus by their actions. (I don’t know of anyone who joined a church because they saw a Walk of Witness.)  It is Mission, they say, or evangelism.  And the people keep on walking by on the other side, embarrassingly looking in any direction but at that huge cross. Or worse, shouting out insults and jokes which we bear because Our Lord did too.

Today a little book arrived in the post called 10 Second Sermons by Milton Jones, the comedian. I like Milton Jones. He makes me laugh and I didn’t know that he had a faith until I saw this wee book. There is something he wrote which made me realise why I struggle so much with Walks of Witness. Here it is:

Sometimes people think church is like a baseball bat. For most of the time they play nice little games with their friends. Then once a year they go out into the High Street and hit someone over the head with it.

I think that’s kind of how it feels to me. Because I’m not ashamed of being a Christian. Heaven knows you can hardly avoid guessing what I do for a living when I walk about town with a black shirt and dog collar on most of the time. On occasion I even wear crosses in my ears. I drive a car with rosary beads swinging from the mirror and a bouncy nun and dashboard Jesus tootle along on my dashboard, and there is a sign in my back window which proclaims ‘Welcome to the Scottish Episcopal Church’. So you see, I do witness to my faith each and every day.

I’ll even walk round the outside of my church on Sunday waving a palm cross and singing a song that nobody outside the church has ever heard and can’t make out because the front of the procession are two verses ahead of the end. And I’ll do it proudly with scarlet vestments and an orange hymn book which clashes.

But please just don’t ask me to walk along the road on a Walk of Witness. I’m sorry, and you probably think I’m shameful for it, but it does just feel like going out and hitting folk on the head with a baseball bat when they’re not quite ready for it.

In the midst of the Triduum

I’m stopping for just a brief moment in the midst of The Triduum to reflect on what has happened so far, and to look forward to what is to come.

Yesterday, after Morning Prayer, I drove through to Edinburgh to our Cathedral to preach at the Chrism Mass. An ominous task and not one I was particularly looking forward to – well, who wants to preach to their peers? But it was lovely to see some of my little flock there to support me. It is a service I love, although I have been known to moan a bit about it in the past. For years it seemed as if we had the same hymns and same Britten mass setting but things have improved (although not the temperature!) and yesterday’s was delicious. I think I remembered to move to the right place at the right time. (And whoever pinched my jar of Healing Oil, could they please return it? It does have ‘Christ Church Falkirk’ in large letters on the side.)

Then a quick bite with the clergy and some very kind words, before joining my little flock in Browns for a yummy lunch. Then straight back to the ranch and into church to create the Garden of Repose – a job I love doing but must learn to delegate as it is so time consuming. I literally finished it just as the server arrived for a quick run-through of the big service.

We do ecumenical here in Falkirk in HOly Week. Each night a different minister comes to Christ Church and does their thing. Mine was last night. And we did it! We did footwashing, and stripping, and prostrating, and watching and waiting. Some of this was new to my little flock, and to our 100+ visitors so not everyone came into the Garden. Next year we might do things differently. But you learn from your mistakes. The geography of a building really dictates liturgy, doesn’t it? Next year the garden may be up on the … oh well, you’ll have to wait and see. One devoted soul did wait and watch for some time and it was gorgeous to sit in the dark with the candles still and bright around Our Lord. Then He was consumed and the garden stripped all ready for today. At that point every bone in my body was screaming that it wanted to rest and I remembered how physical Holy Week is.

Today we shall walk the Stations of the Cross at 12 noon and then there will be 2 hours of devotions on the Sounds of the Passion with music and silence. And tonight Glendon Macaulay will lead us in more Meditations. Glendon is CofS and has asked for incense and anointing oil so that will be something different for some.

Tomorrow I hope some of my little flock will come to help decorate the church – my first attempt at an Easter Garden on my own so all help is welcome. I have found that the liner for a hanging basket will make a nice tomb, I think.

Then the Vigil will tell the stories at night. More of that later…