So Holy Week is coming up! My thoughts turn to all the things that need to happen before we get to the end of Easter Day. It will be a ‘busy time’ as they say.
In many ways, doing Holy Week reminds me of our Pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine. When I went there, we visited a number of places, and at each place, the question I was asking myself was “What do I bring here? Where do I want to be in relation to this part of Jesus’ story?
This is what happens to me during Holy Week. Because of the length of time it takes it is possible for me to enter into the story of Jesus in a way that does not happen when the coming into God’s presence with the whole congregation is just on a Sunday. This is why we do not have just ‘one service’ on Easter day.
So for me Holy Week is a time of dedication. I do not do much else in terms of work, and so I am able do spend the time, ‘bringing myself into the company of God.’
This is not an entirely um-ambivalent experience though. I remember on one Maundy Thursday, going to the Chrism mass very depressed. When people asked me how I was, I reflected “Well, it is one thing to think ‘about’ the dying of Jesus. It is another thing all together to feel as if I am ‘dying’ myself.
Because the services of Holy Week touch me at the place of my deepest devotion, they also touch me at the deepest places where I am as yet unresolved. This brings on inner tensions and sometimes headaches because as St. Paul speaks of in Romans Chapter 7: “The good tings that I want to do, I don’t do, and the evil things that I don’t want to do, I find myself doing.’ Because I am human, there is no such thing as an ‘unalloyed’ or un-ambivalent experience. Everything is mixed with positive and negative thoughts and feelings. It is no wonder that at the end of it, I need a week to recover.
What I hope to be able to do this Holy Week is to let myself participate as much as I can, and to invite God to do God’s work in me through it.
One interesting way that God works in Holy week is through the amount of new ‘things’ that are brought into the Church once a year, at this time. I got this idea from our discussion at the Gospel Reflection Group last night. We were talking about Holy Week, one person mentioned the ‘physicality’ of the event: meaning all these ‘things’ that come into the Church to help our worship. I started to count them up. There is the Lenten ‘covering’ of our images. There are the decorations of the branches, and the palm crosses; there is the washing of the feet, and the ‘stripping’ of the altars; there is the turning of our chapel into the Garden of Gethsemane; there is the large wooden cross, and the invitation to ask “Where am I today in relation to the cross of Jesus?”; there is the fire in the cemetery and the candles and the darkness and the light. At no other time of year do we have so much ‘stuff’.
The Christian faith is definitely a religion of sacraments. As we put together the story of Jesus, with the decorations in the Church, we are making other kinds of ‘sacraments’ that bind our life to God through the medium of ‘physical things’.
At the Gospel Reflection Group last night, I remembered many of the past Holy Weeks that I have been a part of, starting with the first one at the Trinity College, Melbourne chapel back in 1977. Because this will be may last Easter here, and maybe my last Easter as a full time Parish Priest I was also thinking about all the people who have contributed to my ‘kit bag’ of Holy Week resources. I am very grateful to my mentors for what they have given me to build on as a living tradition of keeping Holy Week. Without them, my keeping of Holy Week over the years would have been the poorer indeed. So thank you to David Conolly, and John Howells who, in true Pauline style for ‘passing on to me what was passed on to them.’
So I will be praying for you all during this Holy Week. I invite you to come to everything. I invite you to give yourself wholeheartedly to God in Christ. Pray for the future of St. John’s as this new phase in its life up for us.