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?

Meditation for Spy Wednesday

I was leaning against the wall taking it all in.

I watched his face as he bantered with the crowd.

He was loving every minute of it.

Even the heckling doesn’t seem to bother him.

He just laughs and tells them another bloody story.

Personally, I think he’s losing it.

First there was the women – I mean, what’s that all about?

He just gives them ideas above their station.

And then the children. Children!

I swear, for I’ve just heard it with my own ears, he said that this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of God.

A Child!

A snotty nosed child is going to be greater than me in heaven?

So I’ve come over here just to have some time out.

Some time just to think about what I’m doing.

Do I really belong here?

You know, I’m not sure that we’re on the same page now.

Oh we used to be.

But now?

Now he’s gone too far.

Marching into town on a donkey!

And if I say anything they just say I’m jealous.

Me?  I don’t think so.

He’s not even noticed that I’m not there.

That’s how much he cares about his friends.

He cares more about women and children, as far as I can see.

Yes, of course I’m bitter.

Wouldn’t you be?

Then, I don’t know what got into me…

I really don’t, but before I even knew what I was doing I was outside Caiaphas’ villa.

I asked his servant if I could see him immediately.

Before I changed my mind, that is.

And I was shown in to his inner sanctum where he lay on a couch next to Annas, the High Priest.

It was embarrassing to say the least, for I had to admit that when I had answered to them before about Jesus’ honesty, I was mistaken.

For now I see that he is corrupt to the bone.

Well, Caiaphas was horrified.

I believed in his pretensions, I said. I supported his claim.

Despite all appearances, and against my better judgment, I stifled my growing suspicions.

I sincerely thought he had sufficient character to resist temptation.

I was a fool to trust him.

I’ll never make that mistake again.

Oh they were very sympathetic.

Yes, yes, they said.

A trusting nature is a very beautiful thing… but in this imperfect world it suffers sad disappointments.

Well I’ve learned that the hard way!

Caiaphas asked me quietly : ‘In what way has Jesus proved unworthy?’

I spat out the words.

His hypocrisy is nauseating! He preaches God’s Kingdom and the way of purification – and all the time he has been plotting to destroy the soul of Israel!

Of course they thought I was exaggerating and said so.

They thought that the applause of the crowd had just gone to his head – just a touch of harmless vanity.


Proclaiming war against Jerusalem is harmless?

I heard him with my own ears. This is what he said, word for word…

‘Because you would not accept me when I came in peace, you shall be besieged and destroyed, and not one stone left standing.’

Harmless?  I don’t think so.

Well after that they were grateful for the warning.

And sympathetic really.

Because it had been very painful for me.

To be so mistaken about someone.

But you know I swear I was not mistaken.

God did mean him for the Messiah, I’m sure of it.

He was the Messiah, if only he had been true to himself.

The noblest dreams I ever dreamed, the holiest prayer my heart could utter, all my hopes, all my ideals, seemed incarnate in him.

But now he is eating the applause of the ignorant.

And I warned him. God knows I warned him.

Time and time again.

You see, I understood him.

I could have kept him straight.

But he never gave me his confidence.

He surrounds himself with fools and yes-men – callow lads and common fishermen.

And let’s not forget John his bosom-buddy who can only stutter abject admiration, whilst gazing at him like a sick puppy.

It is nauseating, I tell you.

‘And you are a true friend,’ Annas said to me.

And I was.

Then Caiaphas had this great idea.

That if Jesus died now, while he was at the top of his game, well, then he’d be remembered as the Son of Man.

Whereas if he lives then he is just going to undo all the good he has done.

But if he dies then nobody will remember he had any faults – they will remember only his teaching and his works of power.

Genius! Absolutely genius!

And you know, I think Jesus knew it all along.

Because he said something to that affect – that he must die before he can save.

He said so, he did.

If he has lost the will to follow his true destiny, we must make his words true in spite of himself.

So Caiaphas says that Jesus must be arrested – and soon.

And no riots, not with Pilate in town.

I’ve to find a moment when Jesus is alone, unprotected by his people.

And then I’ve to let them know and they’ll take it from there.

Like I said, I don’t know what’s come over me.

I have lied and I have stolen.

Yes, stolen from the common fund.

And they are beginning to suspect me.

You know, I trust nobody.

I don’t even trust Caiaphas, to tell you the truth.

He could go back on his word easily and then where would I be?

All men are liars.

Of course, he’s offered me a reward.

Expenses, he called it.

Thirty pieces of silver.

I’ve never held that much money before.

It is heavier than I thought.

It weighs me down.

Meditation for Tuesday in Holy Week

I love the view from up here.

You can’t beat it – especially on a day like this.

Jerusalem is fair shining in the sun.

I said so while we rested against the wall catching our breath.

Doesn’t Jerusalem look beautiful from up here?

‘If only it wasn’t so full of detestable people,’ said John.

Well I like it.

You could see all the pilgrims too streaming along the roads.

From up here they looked like ants scurrying along.

We’d heard that they’d got news of our arrival and were going to meet us.

Judas didn’t seem to think this was a good thing.

He seemed to permanently have a frown on his forehead these days.

I don’t know what’s the matter with him.

He seemed to think it was likely to be a demonstration, that their enthusiasm had gone to their heads.

‘If you go forward, they will welcome you in triumph as the Messiah.’


Do you think the moment has come?

I nudged Peter and he nudged me back.

I could feel my heart beating faster, sort of nervously if you know what I mean.

Excited and scared at the same time.

‘Master, has the moment come?’

We were all looking at him now.

All eyes on our leader.

Actually now that I look at him, really look at him, I can see for the first time that he looks awfully tired.

He doesn’t look excited at all.

Far from it, in fact.

He put his arms round Andrew and Nathanael and told them to go into the village to a certain man’s house – Zimri, by name.

He told them exactly where to go and said that they’d find an ass’s colt tied up there and they were to bring it to him here.

Well, that was very strange.

I mean, you don’t just go into someone’s yard and take their animals without a by your leave.

And I could see that Andrew wasn’t particularly keen either for he hesitated.

‘If anyone asks what you want with the colt,’ Jesus said, ‘say only ‘the Master has need of him’ and he will immediately let him go.’

So!  what do you think of that?

Peter nudged me hard in the ribs and I caught his eye.

I mean in one way this is good news, but is it wise?

Judas clearly didn’t think so.

‘Way too risky’, he said.

‘What are you doing, Jesus?’

‘It is not a risk,’ he said. ‘It is a certainty; for the prophecies must be fulfilled…’

Now, what on earth do you think he meant by that?

This was getting weirder by the moment.

Philip was getting really annoying at this point.

He was so excited he was like a little kid.

Something was in the air but nobody was really sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing.

Philip looked like he was sure it was going to be good.

Judas didn’t.

He looked like a man whose dreams have been haunted.

No, he didn’t look well at all.

But you know, I’m thinking well he’s got lots of friends among the people.

They love him.

His enemies will have to give way.

And Peter quite rightly pointed out that if they laid hands on him during the Festival there’d be a riot for sure.

And someone muttered that this was why he’d chosen this time to do it.

Judas’ face was a picture.

‘Oh, it has all been arranged,’ he said.  ‘You may be sure of that.’

Well! What did he meant by that?

Does he know something we don’t?

I looked over to Jesus to see what he was making of all this and couldn’t believe my eyes.

He was weeping!

He didn’t seem to be listening to us at all but was looking out over Jerusalem and the tears were just streaming down his face.

It fair took my breath away, I can tell you.

To see him crying like that.

So vulnerable.

I could feel a lump coming into my throat too.

But it was John who asked the question – why do you weep?

‘For my people and my country,’ he said, ‘and for Jerusalem…’

He looked as if he had all the troubles of the world on his shoulders.

Oh my word, I wish someone would tell me what’s going on.

For he was shouting now, shouting about enemies pressing in from every side.

About destruction – destruction of the city, I think he was prophesying.

‘Jerusalem! Jerusalem! you that kill the prophets and stone the messengers of God, how often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings!   But you would not let me.’

And so he went on.

I don’t mind telling you, I felt distinctly uneasy.

There is something not quite right about all of this.

All this talk of killing and stoning.

I didn’t sign up for this, you know.

And Judas is not happy either – you can tell that just be looking at him.

His face is thunder.

And even Philip doesn’t look quite so enthusiastic now.

But just then Andrew and Nathanael arrive with the colt and news of a great crowd at the bottom of the hill.

‘A welcome awaits you!’ Andrew said with a flourish.

Nate said they were tearing down palm branches and spreading their cloaks out on the ground.

We could hear the shouting from up here.

Mothers have brought their children, said Andrew.

Come on, Jesus, time to get on this mule.

I was the one who noticed there was no saddle.

So I put my coat on it for him to sit on.

And then Andrew put his on, and Peter and John…

The mule didn’t look too happy  and started to twist round and looked like he was going to flick the coats off his back.

I don’t think he’d ever been ridden, you know.

His eyes were staring – well bulging actually with fear.

His ears were down too which is not a good sign.

Well not if you were planning on riding him.

But Jesus stood beside him and whispered in his ear.

‘Shhh shhh shhh, come now little colt. Don’t you know me?

You too are a child of my Father’s house.  Yes you are.  Sshhh shhh… there now, you’re good as gold.’

Well! I’ve never seen that before.

That stubborn mule was standing there as good as gold.

And when I put my hands out to give Jesus a leg up that little mule didn’t flinch one bit.

You should be a proud mule today!

You are carrying a Messiah!

(click) Ride on!  Ride on!

Meditation for Monday in Holy Week

I’d only come to see Lazarus.

Well, it’s not every day that you see someone who’s been dead and is now alive.

And there he was!

Looking a little pale, I grant you.

It gave me the creeps, you know.

Made me come over quite cold – as if someone had walked over my grave.

There he was sitting next to Jesus, laughing and joking.

I ask you!

It didn’t seem decent somehow.

Someone next to me said: ‘I suppose he really was dead?’

And I said, ‘Oh yes. My daughter-in-law’s aunt is the woman who laid him out.’

Of course we all wanted to know what it felt like to be dead.

If truth be know, that was why we were all here.

Well, it’s not every day that you meet someone who’s been and come back again.

That woman from down near the olive trees asked him.

She’s very pushy.

The conversation died away into an inquisitive silence.

‘Beautiful and terrible,’ he said.

‘Beautiful and terrible and familiar – as if you’ve know it from all eternity.’

Well, that put her gas at a peep.

Of course I had decided that I was just going to behave exactly as though nothing had happened.

I just said, ‘Well, my dears!  I’m delighted to see your brother looking so fit.’

Someone else said, ‘I dare say the whole thing’s been exaggerated.

When I was ill last spring I was unconscious for hours and had the most extraordinary dreams.’

But what if it was true?

If Lazarus really had been raised from the dead?

Well, if he toured the country telling his story the whole world would be converted to Jesus’ ways.

It was just then that I smelt it.

A twitch of the nostril first and then a wave of it swept over me.

I inhaled deeply… mmmm… marvellous… exquisite…

Where was it coming from?

Not Lazarus, that’s for sure.

No, he smelled… how can I put it?

Earthy.  And a bit fusty, to tell you the truth.

But this was wonderful – rich and heady.

The woman next to me said it was Mary, Lazarus’ sister, who’d broken the lid from the vase of perfume.

A beautiful alabaster jar too. What a shame.

Then, my dear, you won’t believe what happened next.

The crowd had shifted a bit and I had a clear view.

As clear as day, I tell you – as clear as you are to me right now.

You see, it hadn’t been an accident – the breaking of the alabaster jar.

No, Mary had done it deliberately.

And you won’t credit it but she was pouring it over Jesus’ feet.  His feet!

Such extravagance!

I heard a man saying, ‘I dare say it’s not very expensive.’

How like a man!

Perfume of that quality must have cost pounds and pounds.

Then she anointed his head, as though he were a king.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

We were all stunned, you see.

Stunned into silence watching this … this act… this very intimate act, if you know what I mean…

Actually I felt rather uncomfortable but I couldn’t have dragged my eyes away if I’d wanted.

I mean, it was really rather beautiful.

Rather holy, if you know what I mean.

I mean, Mary – well she’s always been rather excitable.

And I suppose she was grateful about her brother and all that.

But this wasn’t just a drop or two of perfume – it was the whole jar of it.

Excessive isn’t the word for it.

And of course I wasn’t the only person to think so.

I heard Judas saying quite clearly that he couldn’t see any reason for this waste.

‘That perfume might have been sold for a few hundred pounds and the money given to the poor.’

Well, quite!

That would have been far more suitable.

Well, you won’t credit it but Jesus said – said while oil still glistened on his skin – said,

‘Let Mary alone, Judas. Why are you so unkind?’

You could see that Judas didn’t expect that!

A man standing up for a woman.

Not exactly commonplace, is it?

Then he said a strange thing, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I really don’t know what he meant by it.

He said ‘What she has done for me is a work of charity.  For if she kept this perfume, it was that she might anoint me for my burial.’

What do you make of that, then?

I saw Lazarus smile at that, as if he knew a secret that we didn’t know.

He didn’t look frightened anyway, of this talk of death.

But then he wouldn’t, would he?

He’s been into the valley of the shadow of death and come out the other side.

There’s not many can say that.

But it’s made me think.

I’ll never forget Mary and what she did.


I think they’ll talk of her for years to come.