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.


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.

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…

Chrism Mass Sermon 2011

This is the sermon I shall preach this morning at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh.

1 Samuel 3:1-10

Luke 7:36-50

Can you feel them?

Can you feel those tears?

Those tears drip, drip, dripping on your feet,

warm and then cool on your skin?

Can you feel her stifled sobs,

from deep within,

from that part deep in her soul

which calls out to you with repentance?

Can you feel them?

Can you see her?

Can you see the top of her head,

not daring to look up,

not daring to look you in the eye?

Can you see her lift her hand and gather her hair to one side

and try to wipe the evidence away,

lest you think less of her?

That long, uncovered hair, rich in tones, bleached in parts by the sun?

Damp now, in tendrils, curling with the moistness of her own tears.

Can you see her?

Can you smell it?

That heady aroma of scented oil and perfume?

The air heavy with geranium and rose and myrrh.

First the base note tickles your nose, then the middle notes come through as you almost taste it,

and finally the top notes,

all mingling into one another to produce a most exquisite scent.

A perfume so heady that you can’t sense anything else – all the other everyday smells of cooking and cleaning have been overtaken by this heavenly ambrosia.

A perfume that makes you want to close your eyes, breathe deeply and inhale slowly…

A perfume that takes you to another place – to warmth and romance and healing and wellbeing.

A perfume so divine that it must only be used for those special occasions when nothing else will do,

when only the very best is good enough.

A perfume fit for a king.

Can you feel it?

That silky oil being massaged into your feet?

Oh so weary feet, dusty from the road, soles burning from walking so long.

First the oil slips down your ankle onto your sore feet and tenderly,

oh so tenderly, she starts to massage it in.

Oil so rich and scented that it immediately takes away the dust of the day.

Oil so sweet and soft that it feels as if you have the feet of a baby once more.

Oil so rich and luscious that it seeps through your pores into the very core of your being.

Oil so healing and relaxing that it makes you want to close your eyes and drift away.

Oil fit for a king.

Can you see her?

This unnamed woman who fills the air with exotic perfume and anoints the feet of Our Lord?

Can you see her?

She has no name in this story,

no name,

so she could be you.

You may get angry when women aren’t even given a name in these stories.

But perhaps by having no name she could be you, or me, or anyone.

Can you see her?

Can you see her kneel down, tenderly lifting each foot and slowly but firmly massaging in the rich perfumed oil.

With thumbs pressing firmly, round and round, soothing away the dust and tiredness.

Relaxing each muscle with every firm stroke.

Can you see her?

Can you see you doing that?

Some of you will be doing this tonight.

Washing the feet of our loved ones.

Kneeling on painful knees to tenderly wash the feet of those whom we serve.

For that is what we are called to do.

Called to serve,

called to kneel,

called to anoint,

called to love,

called to forgive.

Can you see them?

Those shy and hesitant feet,

unsure and uncertain,

feeling vulnerable and exposed,

not really wanting to do this act,

this act of receiving.

Because we’d all much rather be giving rather than taking.

We’d much rather be the one anointing than the one sitting awkwardly with someone at our feet performing this most intimate of acts.

And tonight we have the privilege of being that unnamed woman,

for tonight that woman is us.

Tonight we are called to serve.

Tonight we are called to see Christ in each and every one and to give such generous love…

Can you hear it?

Can you hear that call?

Can you hear that call to be a servant?

I’m guessing that we’ve all heard it.

We may not have liked it,

we may have resisted,

but at some time, perhaps in the dim and distant past, we too were called.

Samuel! Samuel!

Brian! John! Ian! Shona! Marion! Ruth!

Can you hear it?

Can you hear your name being called?

Calling you to serve at the altar,

calling you to serve at the bedside,

calling you to anoint and to pray,

calling you to tell the stories,

calling you to listen to the stories

and to make the connections,

calling you, sisters and brothers,

to be agents of transformation,

midwives of a new birthing of the Spirit,

calling you to shed tears, to wash feet and to kiss them,

calling you to pronounce the forgiveness of sins?

For it is only through experiencing the mercy of God that we can come to forgive ourselves.

Calling you to make sacrifices

but none so great as the one made for us.

Can you hear it?

Can you hear that call?

Speak, for your servant is listening.

Can you feel it?

Can you feel it in the air?

Can you feel the anticipation?

For tonight is the night,

the very night,

when we shall gather to tell the stories.

The night when we shall weep and wash,

when we shall gather to share the bread and wine,

the body and blood,

in that upper room.

tonight is the night,

the very night,

when we shall wait and watch.

This is the night when it all comes together,

when what we do each week, each day,

makes sense.

For this is our story

and tonight we must tell it,

tell it until it hurts.

For that too is what we are called to do.

Maundy Thursday report

The day began with the Chrism Mass in the cathedral, our mother church. Some new canons were installed. I shall let it be known here and now that I wish to be made a canon, purely for the extra layer of clothing they get to wear in the coldest building in Christendom. And yes, I was coveting that little purple number that Canon Pam was sporting. We did have a bit of a dilemma when Canon Malcolm was coped with a flourish… pony tail in or out?  We couldn’t find the rubrics for that anywhere. Canon Malcolm said he’d have been more comfortable in leather. Bless!

New hymns this year which I suspect had something to do with a certain new curate there. We even had a modern one!  And the priest next to me had his hand in the air. I know! Shocking, isn’t it? So while that was a welcome change, the same ol’ Britten Missa Brevis was not. OK, so its the only mass setting in the world written for little people but come on! I loathe its plinkety plinkness.

Got my oil in a miniature gin bottle again because I forgot to purchase new receptacles.

Lunch followed and a catch up with the clergy we only meet once a year then I was commanded to give one old priest a lift home. Always a pleasure 😉  Then off to the hospital for a little pastoral visiting and weeping. Just home in time to gather my belongings and head off to church again for our marathon that is Maundy Thursday.

We gathered for a meal (with wine, thanks to Fr John W’s comment last year) and sang and listened and tootsies were washed and snogged.  The altar was stripped and the Garden of Repose looked wonderful. This was the first year my little pixies did it for me and I had no hand in it. They did a wonderful job of it too. Photos will follow.

Maundy Thursday and it all kicks off

We’ve had a good turn-out for our candlelit Complines but so many people have told me they are away for Easter that I fear the rest of Holy Week will be sparse in numbers. But it is not all about numbers, right?

Today I shall be renewing my ordination vows at the Cathedral and catching up with clergy that we never see from one year to the next. Then I shall decorate the Altar of Repose with white flowers and many candles. My hope is that this will be the last year I do it as I am passing on my strict instructions to others who will take it on in future.  When +A takes services at St Mark’s he always spends a considerable time prior to the service in prayer and I look with envy. Why am I always rushing around seeing to things at the last minute?

Tonight we shall share a meal, have feet washed, listen to the choir, strip the altars and then journey to the Garden of Gethsemane. There we shall stay and watch and pray. You can come too.

Maundy Thursday 2008

If you want a good explanation of the Maundy Thursday service check out Fr Kelvin’s Blog here.

So last night we gathered in slightly different fashion, although the intention was the same. We began by sitting round some tables draped in fair linen cloths and listened to the story of the footwashing. Then Bishop Alan and I washed feet – everyone’s feet this year! –  and then each other’s.  It occurred to me that I know these people’s hands so well. Each Sunday they are outstretched to receive the bread and I have got to know each wrinkle, each blemish, each tremor.  But do I know their feet so well? People can be so squirmy about feet but last night they all whipped off their socks and stretched out their tootsies to have them bathed.  So now, in my third Holy Week here, I am getting to know their feet too.

We then served some soup and home-made bread and chatted round the table, interspersed by the readings for the service which hushed the chatter and seemed so meaningful in the context of this meal. Then the table was cleared and the bread became the Body of Christ and we celebrated that Last Supper.

After that the congregation came forward to the Sanctuary steps and helped clear the altar of all adornment and the candles were lit at the Garden of Repose. The sacrament was carried there and the clergy and servers prostrated themselves in front on the Garden as we gathered in the darkness to sit with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.

We don’t manage to keep watch till midnight, as St Mary’s Cathedral do, but I know that some people managed to have some quiet time in the presence of the Sacrament. This is one of my most favourite (if that is the right word) times in church. Sitting in the dark with the beautiful garden twinkling with candles and white flowers it is a most magical moment where time seems to be suspended.

Then once everyone has gone it is back to the almost tiresome activity of tidying up the dishes and putting away the tables and dismantling the Garden. All those hours of work in preparation for a seemingly short time and with creaking joints and sore backs we put the church back to ‘normal’ for todays 3 hours devotions.

My heartfelt thanks go to all who contributed to making the church ready and then staying behind to put it all back again. I know you all were tired too and I really appreciate it.

So, now we fast and prepare for horror of the Cross. If you want to join the procession through the streets then get yourself to St Philip’s Joppa at 10am this morning, stopping at St Mark’s for a meditation at about 10.15am, then on to St John’s Roman Catholic Church. Then at 12noon we will walk the Stations of the Cross followed by 2 hours of The Proclamation of the Cross led by Bishop Alan Smithson.