Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ride on, ride on

I've always loved Palm Sunday.

At the vertiginously high church of my early childhood, St John the Evangelist, Upper St Leonards, I was enthralled by the idea of the choir and clergy ALLOWED OUTSIDE THE CHURCH in all their amazing "dressing up clothes" and entirely happy to be associated with them in a rather sedate procession down Brittany Road from the hall to the church. I guess it was those processions that meant that I learned the words of the great Palm Sunday hymns very early...I was transfixed by the image of "the Father on his sapphire throne" and those incredulous angels "the winged squadrons of the skies look on with sad and wondr'ing eye" I was caught up both in the drama of the day - the short walk along a quiet road - and the many-layers of imagery in the hymnody, even before I found myself drawn into the gospel story itself.

Later (and still to this day) I found "My song is love unknown" expressed everything I felt and needed to say. I was acutely conscious of my own likely place in the crowd
"Sometimes they (we) strew his way and his sweet praises sing
Resounding all the day, "Hosanna to the King" 
then "Crucify" is all our breath and for his death we thirst and cry"
How could I swing from one extreme to another?
Why was it such a short journey from Palm Sunday to Good Friday?
Would I never be able to trust myself to stay on the right side in this?

I'm sure that dramatized Passion readings took place in many of the churches I've belonged to along the way - but for some reason they didn't really hit home for me til ordination. I'll never forget my first Palm Sunday presiding, when I found myself as "ex officio" Jesus - entering into the narrative in a way that took my breath away...or the echo that we roused in St Matthew's as we shouted "CRUCIFY HIM"...

But today was powerful in new and unexpected ways. 
Today I was hugely aware of endings...and the service itself underlined this from the introduction onwards

"We are all part of the rhythm of life.
We are born. We give birth.
We live in relationships.
We search for meaning.
We make choices.
We face endings.
As we celebrate this day of our journey together - PEACE BE WITH YOU".

We've used this liturgy for several years now - but, oh goodness, it hit home as I contemplated Holy Week spread out before me, my last as vicar of Cainscross. 
It has been such a huge privilege to help this congregation recover their sense of a week full of worship, to try gentle experiments til we worked out what felt best for these people at this time...and though honesty demands that I acknowledge my failure to persuade the whole congregation to walk the way of the cross through the week, the little core who attend everything seem to find the experience every bit as challenging and moving as I do.

And today our Passion Gospel must have been the best yet.
Sitting in the pews with that splendidly mixed group - a female Evangelist, a teenage Christ and a whole crowd of wonderful others - it was brought home to me as never before that this IS our story. 
Not long ago and far away but here and now - in Cainscross, in Coventry and beyond.

Maybe it's not surprising that the little girl next to me had to ask - in a rather pointed stage whisper
"Kathryn - are you CRYING?"
To which the only possible response was "Might be...."

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