Several weeks have already passed since Easter, and I should have updated this blog much sooner (technical issues notwithstanding!) I had such an amazing Holy Week, with so many new experiences – but there may be something to be said for looking back on it all at a little distance.
The tradition in which I grew up, and have mainly been used to since, has only involved extra services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, with an especially joyful service on Easter Day (following a family treasure hunt). These services nearly always included the singing of ‘There Is A Green Hill’, ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’, ‘Jesus Christ is Risen Today!’ and ‘Up From the Grave He Arose!’ on the appropriate days (with the more recent addition of ‘See What A Morning’). This year I only sang one of these (and a somewhat different version, at that), despite spending more time in church than ever before. How good it is to be challenged, at times, by the different and the unfamiliar!
It all started for me on the Tuesday evening, with a Taizé-inspired meditation at St Thomas’ Church, where the focal point was a wooden cross on the floor with candles outlining its shape. It was still light for much of this service, with the sun streaming into the church at the start, and I was struck by how the candles around the cross managed to be so visible despite the competition.
Then, on the Wednesday evening, I attended my first ever Passover Meal. There was so much that was moving and inspiring about this – the sense of gaining a little insight into something Jesus himself experienced and valued, the awareness that this has been an important part of Holy Week at St Thomas’ for years, the joy of sharing such a special time with people who have so quickly become friends – and the power of a close-knit community singing Psalm 23 (The Lord’s My Shepherd) together, unaccompanied, by candlelight. I must confess that the reservations about candles expressed in my previous post have already been severely challenged (although I would certainly have struggled without the torch which was so kindly provided for me!)
On the morning of Maundy Thursday I went with other Community members to the ‘Chrism Eucharist’ at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, the occasion when the clergy renew their vows and the holy oils are blessed. Another new experience – and the highlight for me was the sense of unity and equality before God, symbolised by the questioning of the bishops by a young chorister, and of the priests by an ordinand. Also at this service, Bishop Mike preached a memorable sermon, in which he described his teenage attempts to avoid the local vicar, and how his opinion of this individual was transformed during a time of family bereavement.
Speaking of Bishop Mike (of Dunwich), I feel privileged to have been part of the foot-washing ceremony at St Thomas’ on the Thursday evening. I was initially reluctant to allow a bishop to wash my foot – I said to Jutta beforehand that I’d much prefer to wash others’ feet than have mine washed! – but in the event it was a profoundly moving occasion. Not least because it was so quickly followed by the overwhelming sadness of the silent vigil, before the ‘Altar of Repose’.
To be continued…