The Creativity of Holy Week

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That typical family photo where the baby finally smiles when the adults aren’t looking

Whew.

Holy Week has me exhausted. As a reader and choir member, I attended nearly every service this week. This is my first journey from Ash Wednesday through Lent all the way to Resurrection Sunday, and I loved every second of it.

I’m used to Easter being a one-day event, maybe with a little bit of heart prep on Palm Sunday. On Easter Sundays of yore, I got gussied up in a new dress to sing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” at whatever Baptist church we attended at the time. And that’s pretty much it (not counting the Easter egg hunt, Starburst jelly beans, and Resurrection Eggs — all holy rituals in their own right).

This Easter was an all-out marathon. Like I said, I’d never fully participated in the church calendar before, and was honestly skeptical of certain parts. Lenten sacrifice, for example. I gave up something for Lent this year (though, really, being a parent of a newborn automatically enrolls you into intense Lenten sacrifice — NO SLEEP). I didn’t get the point. It didn’t make me feel closer to God, or remind me to pray more, or in any way improve my spiritual life. I wasn’t even suffering: turns out it was an easy thing to give up and I didn’t miss it at all. When I returned to it on Easter Sunday, I wasn’t eager to have it back in my life.

Lenten fail? Or maybe Lenten success? Maybe my Lenten takeaway is that I don’t always need the things I think I need, that they aren’t as big a deal to living life as I formerly thought.

Holy Week is hands-down my favorite part of the liturgical year so far. I’ve been researching a more creative spirituality, using the senses and imagination to enter into Scripture and prayer (like Ignatian imaginative prayer and lectio divina). Holy Week provided many opportunities to engage with the Gospel readings in creative ways.

On Palm Sunday, we marched around the parking lot waving real palm branches after a bellowing bagpipe (a truly authentic recreation of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem). One couple driving past even stopped to follow us into the church after seeing our joyful, freezing cold procession. We all processed into the church, where the organ blasted “All Glory Laud and Honor.”

The youth Sunday school classes provided a dramatized reading of the Passion. Our deacon read the narration, the students read for Jesus, Peter, the High Priest, etc., and another student drummed ominously underneath the entire reading. It was beautifully, simply, non-cheesily done, adding more layers of interest and art to engage you with the Gospel text without distracting you from the Gospel text, if that makes sense.

Every Wednesday we walked through the stations of the cross, visual representations of different moments during Christ’s suffering and crucifixion. I say “we,” but really, Erich, e.e., and I only attended a handful during Lent. Noon is smack dab during e.e.’s nap time, and he was cranky. I contemplatively nursed him during many of the stations.

On Maundy Thursday, the choir led a Taizé service — chants as opposed to hymns, sung over and over to facilitate meditation and prayer. Veni, sancte spiritus, we intoned repeatedly as we processed into church. At the close of the service, the priest cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”

No blessing or dismissal followed.

We stripped the altar — candles, hymnals, chairs, the Eucharist, everything disappeared into the sacristy. Then the lights went out. In pitch darkness, a wooden clacker cracked out three strikes, and we dismissed in silence.

The Gethsemane vigil began, with individuals watching and praying for an hour at a time, in faithfulness to Christ, who asked if his disciples could stay awake for even one hour while he prayer in agony. (The answer for me was absolutely not this year. See parental exhaustion above. I’d love to participate next year.)

I’m sure something great happened on Holy Friday, but e.e. wanted to nap right before the noon service.

And then came the Easter vigil. This was my favorite service during Holy Week. The procession entered with the Pascha candle, the deacon sang to the candle for a long time, and we passed on the light down the aisles with our own tiny candles, which melted into a wax puddle by the end of the service. Erich, used to Catholic masses, snootily huffed that they should have used beeswax candles instead. I, used to nothing, was excited there were candles of any sort.

I was not excited that Erich tried to juggle a candle, a pacifier, and our baby dressed in a slippery christening gown all at once. Oh yes — e.e. was getting baptized during this vigil. By candlelight. (A whole post on that is forthcoming!)

Afterwards we shouted, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!” and the lights went up and the organ blasted and we belted out a triumphant song.

Sort of. In reality I was trying to get a wailing e.e. to calm down with a bottle without getting milk and candlewax all over his lacy gown, and that makes things less triumphant.

On Easter Sunday, we wove lilies and daffodils into a cross and just had a wonderful, joyous Easter service, complete with — of course — “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” Our deacon wore a balloon bishop’s hat for the dismissal (obviously), and e.e. commanded a fleet of preteens to hunt Easter eggs for him.

A glorious Easter weekend, indeed.

What were your favorite moments from Holy Week this year?

// All of that Lenten/Holy Week meditation culminated in these thoughts on female disciples, faithfulness, and a new narrative for Easter.

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4 thoughts on “The Creativity of Holy Week

  1. Fran Johns

    A lovely Easter tale to follow. My own favorite moment this year has to be the one I missed, with Calvary Presbyterian’s children’s choir doing “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Palm Sunday when I was out of the country. The whole production (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjvGg9Pj6mk) is 16 minutes or so, but all you need to watch is the first rather wonderful 30 – 45 seconds. I don’t even know who that child is; but will be happy to find out if e.e. turns up interested in older women. Happy springtime!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. villemezbrown

    This all sounds glorious. It is clear you made a good choice for your family when you picked your church. I actually love the idea of nursing your baby at the stations of the cross and the baby wailing at the triumphant moment. What could be more life-affirming? Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story of your Easter week.

    At my Unitarian Universalist church Easter isn’t a very big deal. The sermon was interesting, but not particularly emotional or inspiring. We learned that the earliest gospel, Mark, most likely originally ended after 16:8 with the opening of the tomb and Jesus not being there. My minister quipped, “It ended on a cliffhanger” We did sing one of my favorite hymns, “I Know this Rose Will Open” Then Sunday night we watched the live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar on NBC and my daughter and I agreed that it was fine and certainly enjoyable, but the 2000 movie version we traditionally watch every Easter in my family is still the definitive version for us. We watched Jerome Pradon sing “Heaven on Their Minds” after the broadcast and confirmed that he is as amazing as we remembered.

    Note: In case you are worried, there are other times of the year my church is both emotional and inspiring. ;-)

    Adele

    Like

    • Bailey Steger

      To my shame, I’ve only watched Jesus Christ Superstar once, and I didn’t have cable to watch the NBC live version!! :'( I’m hoping to re-watch one of the versions again soon. I remember it being really thought-provoking. What a great family tradition to watch it every Easter!

      Like

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