Monday, April 21, 2014

Holy Week highlights - part 1

Just over 6 years ago, I promised myself that I would never leave a church job over Easter again, as the emotional roller-coaster that is Holy Week combines with the emotional roller-coaster that is moving on from a beloved congregation in a thoroughly overwhelming way.
Inevitably I failed to keep my own promise - though at least this time round there is a week between Easter Sunday and my final services at St Matthew's...Nonetheless, the combination ensured that Holy Week 2014 was never going to feel low key.
Knowing that this would be the last time I experienced the liturgical wonder of Holy Week with this congregation as their parish priest, I was repeatedly aware of sacred moments as the week went on.

Already, the early part of last week feels like a life-time ago. The joy and excitement of Palm Sunday morning overtaken by powerful feelings as a small group of us followed the Stations of the Cross that evening and found ourselves overwhelmed by connections between that story of loss and redemption and our own situations. I love Stations - but I've never yet found myself leading a group round with almost half of us in tears. Good, healing tears ...tears that opened the way to deeper connections...that ensured that everyone went home thinking that bit harder...just slightly more aware of the needs and the wounds of their neighbour.

Tuesday evening's service was a beautifully simple Iona Eucharist led by my lovely curate. She had set up a tiny altar in the Lady Chapel, so that the small congregation could sit around the table. There was space and stillness and great beauty...and not for the first time I was completely blown away by the liturgy itself
"Look. Here is your Lord. He is coming to you in bread and wine"

And it was so.

Next day was Tenebrae - something the boys and I have developed over the past 5 years. This year we felt we needed a few changes, so included some additional readings as well as the passages from the psalms and Lamentations that always belong to this evening of gathering darkness.
So we began the service by saying the ancient Phos Hilarion together,  listened to the Bairstow Lamentations, John of Portugal's Crux Fidelis and Gibbons' Drop, drop, slow tears, the latter paired with the beautiful words of Malcolm Guite's "Jesus Wept"

We found ourselves going ever deeper into darkness as we remembered that we were those to whom Christ spoke in Causeley's "I am the great sun" - a poem based on words from a Normandy crucifix of 1632

I am the great sun, but you do not see me,
I am your husband, but you turn away.
I am the captive, but you do not free me,
I am the captain but you will not obey.
I am the truth, but you will not believe me,
I am the city where you will not stay.
I am your wife, your child, but you will leave me,
I am that God to whom you will not pray.
I am your counsel, but you will not hear me,
I am your lover whom you will betray.
I am the victor, but you do not cheer me,
I am the holy dove whom you will slay.
I am your life, but if you will not name me,
Seal up your soul with tears, and never blame me.

Finally even the light of the Paschal candle was extinguished and we listened to Allegri's Miserere before a rather amateur "earthquake" opened the graves again and the light returned. 
That was Wednesday.                                                                                  cont.

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