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!

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.

Easter Triduum

Where do I begin? Right now I feel like lying down in a dark cave and rolling the stone in front of it just for a while. But before I do, let me tell you briefly what we have been up to for the past three days…

On Good Friday the procession of the cross went along Portobello High Street stopping at St Philip’s (CofS), then us, and then St John’s (RC). I did a wee meditation to send them on their way.

It was amazing how many of my little flock just ‘popped in’ to church because it was open in the morning for a prayer. I wish we could have it open more often. Sigh.

Then at 12noon we walked the Stations of the Cross (with hymns in between) and then gathered for meditations and music led by Bishop Alan. It was a powerful three hours and very different from last year – which is a good thing. Then hot cross buns to break our fast (well for some of us anyway!) and off to ponder the darkness of it all.

On Holy Saturday we gathered at the cross in the garden in an icy bitter wind and said the morning Office.Draped Cross

Then it was all hands on deck for changing an empty church into a gloriously lilyfied offering worthy of a King.Lilies and stained glass

Even the photocopier toner running out did nothing to deter those scrubbers. I wept briefly, without wanting to make too much fuss, but that which was lost was found and the photocopier sprang back into life (remind you of something?!) and continued churning out service sheets by the dozen.

Our Easter Vigil was in darkness – so dark we couldn’t read the Collects – as we listened to the stories of redemption. Then out to the porch for fire and candles and I sang. Yes, I sang! (If you know me well, you will know this is a BIG thing!) Then we all sang the Exsultet and the church came alight with flames. A quick hop over to the font and after a bit of candle-plunging we renewed our baptismal vows, said our names aloud, and did some more Alleluias.

This morning some hardy souls arrived at the beach at 7am with a wonderful sun shining on the water.Easter on the Beach

It was freezing cold but we gathered round the fire and Alleluia-ed some more. Then back for bacon rolls before the first Easter Eucharist. I can see now that incense might have helped rid the church of the aroma of grilled bacon. Bishop Alan kindly took this service and I got to roll around in the pews soaking it in. More Alleluias were uttered.

Then the church quickly filled – to capacity and we had to send the overload upstairs to the balcony – and we began again with the business of proclaiming Christ is Risen Indeed. There were four baptisms, each one a poppet, and much hilarity. Even my Krusty the Clown jack-in-the-box went down reasonably well. (Visual aid for Jesus rising from the grave – you had to be there. My son tells me Krusty is not a particularly good role model and associates with prostitutes. I think that’s quite a good role model myself.)

By which point the adrenalin kicked in and we Alleluia-ed on until all had been fed and wined. All in all we had over 150 people in church today and I know its not all about numbers but for this little church that was pretty impressive.

So thank you one and all for making it a very special Easter indeed. You know who you are.