Easter is all about Good News, and for Kathie and me the news is very sweet indeed. After over forty years of Easter weekends, for the first time since 1982 I have the weekend off. As a musician, lay leader or ordained person I have no formal liturgical responsibilities this coming weekend. Whoo hoo! More than that, I have no responsibility for planning and leading various rites in the rich tableau (Triduum) which is Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (The Easter Vigil) followed by Easter Sunday.
For clergy or lay worship leaders it’s a crazy time of year, rich with symbolism, theatre, music, reflection, ritual, storytelling, community, poetry, soul-searching, organization . . . I could go on. It is the high point of the Christian year from which all other festivals derive. So much art, history and practice emanate from its disciplines and traditions. Ever the most secular of world travelers marvels at the remnants of ancient rituals at the world’s Christian shrines – in Jerusalem, Rome, Canterbury, Kyiv, Cairo and elsewhere. Important connections are made with all the historic monotheistic faiths. In the global north, the apparitions of Spring and in the south, Fall nudge us through the changing of seasons. While the Christian rites of Good Friday do not make sense to all, even the secular Guardian Newspaper publishes its annual “God edition” in two days’ time.
Busy Christian clergy face particular challenges, still vital in my vocational memory in my roles is one small cathedral, several parish churches throughout Canada, amidst mission work in the Canadian North and in student leadership. Several themes come to mind:
- It’s a lot of work preparing orders of service, coordinating volunteer participants, preparing reflections on familiar though lengthy texts, trying to find a new angle or refreshing insight for myself and others.
- I often wondered if I should simply ditch the sermons as to a large extent folks have heard it all before, at least from me. That said, there are many who will hear these stories – Jesus’ entry intro Jerusalem surrounded by adulation, only a few days later to hear condemnation shouted from every rooftop; the beautiful Upper Room discourse; the violence of Good Friday; the anxious waiting through Holy Saturday – many will hear these for the first time; they deserves assistance, without manipulation, through appropriate and honest interpretation.
- It’s very hard to prepare an Easter message as you move through the horrors of betrayal, brutal interrogation and physical abuse, violent public death . . . It’s like reading the final chapter of a book first (as post-modern critics suggest as an appropriate practice).
- You must balance your own need to produce material for a spiritually hungry congregation with your own pietistic and spiritual needs. I used to tell myself that I would care for my own Holy Week needs after Easter. Well that never happened.
- There can be, and thankfully is humour. In a detective novel you begin with a body but you don’t know “who did it.” With the Easter Gospel you have no body but have a strong suspicion who at the very least “did something.”
- Then there’s Good Friday, and someone’s idea to have a pilgrimage followed by an outdoor fire. Super idea, but in a small church I would need to get involved. Plan ahead, well ahead – small nails for model crosses; wieners for the bonfire; flashlights for the early morning break of day at the rivers’ edge.
- Hey, let’s have baptisms at the Easter Vigil. Great idea and liturgical practice. One year, again in a small church, we had seven, a record for that congregation for which the Vigil was a new experience. Of course a parish women’s group complained as each family wanted their own special ceremony.
- Holy oils, rites of anointing and healing which work so well on Maundy Thursday, more opportunities for teaching and pastoral care. No more Seder meals please (Jews don’t tinker with Holy Communion after all) — we understand the dangers of cultural assimilation better these days. Busy, complicated, worthwhile.
- And then . . . there was COVID.
I think you get my drift. Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through to Easter Day is an extremely busy time of year for worship leaders, musicians and participants. It’s challenging in terms of taking the tradition and incorporating or adapting for each local situation. The Triduum has in many cases been personally inspiring and imaginative. I hope this is true for others; oh, did I say it’s busy?
I am so grateful for all of you who continue to take up what I commenced forty years ago, a remembering, recalling, retelling and re-shaping of an ancient story, moulded into a living tradition, in a way in which we are affected, nurtured and transformed in the present moment, as God-in-Christ continues to shape us in the Creator’s image, step by step, individually and in community.
Thanks be to God, and thanks to each and every one of you. I assure you, in the name of One much greater than me, that one day you also will enter into what I presently enjoy, and will hear these words: “Enter now into (my) rest . . . “
Lovely thoughts–I’m glad you are feeling happy at the freedom this Easter; a perfect retiree indeed. As a biologist (and as a child) one of my favourite things to hear at Palm Sunday service was Chesterton’s poem on the donkey. It’s now rusty, but was one I had committed to memory. Imagine the power of being able to say:
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
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Huge Chesterton fan, though it has been a while. Back to Father Brown re-runs.
Thanks again Ken, you “old guys” can still inspire us, keep us on track theologically and, model authentic ministry. Trev.+