I was perched on a step stool discretely placed behind the altar, black veil in hand, struggling to get it up and over, down the back of the altar cross. Then I would tie a back ribbon around it and walk out in darkness and silence. I tried several times, the fabric kept slipping off even though I’d practiced a couple of times during the day on Thursday and it worked well then. I breathed through the rush of anxiety and then it came to me: this is supposed to be hard. When I finally got the cross veiled, tied that ribbon and walked down the aisle, I was almost in tears. It’s supposed to be hard to turn around and see dimly that the altar has been stripped bare, and the aumbry doors hang open awkwardly, and the sanctuary candle has been extinguished.
I had had a half-formed homily on my mind for days; on Friday morning I sat and wrote it and my throat kept knotting up. It is hard to contemplate the horrors that unfold all the time around us—I re-read a harrowing article in the New York Times about the way women in Honduras are being killed and why. I couldn’t stop thinking of how here in Alabama we have systematically stripped people who are incarcerated of their humanity—we may not be in prison, but we who continue to let things be as they are for prisoners are committing a crime against the Holy Spirit, in some regards, we are re-crucifying Jesus.
Saturday: hard in its own way, and yet with tendrils of hope carried in with the cold wind that blew from the north that morning as 20 of us huddled against the church wall in the Memorial Garden for the Holy Saturday liturgy, reminding ourselves that “In the midst of life we are in death;” (BCP). It is hard to do what TS Eliot asks us to do in East Coker: Wait without hope. Wait without love. That kind of surrender even of hope and love was made at least a bit more bearable when I looked around and saw faces mapped by years of stories of grief and great love, saw young faces so clear and bright, heard a delicious little boy get it just a bit wrong or totally right when, at the end of a prayer, he said “Oh Man” instead of Amen. The waiting is easier if we are not alone.
And then it was Easter and it was time, according to so many voices all around us, to turn off the darker, more somber voices and fall into merriment and color, and music, and extravagance and beauty as we brought back the Alleluias. I was reminded: even Easter Sunday is supposed to be at least a little bit hard. And yesterday there was plenty of sorrow at the images that kept coming in of the massacre in Sri Lanka. The thing is, that is precisely what the heart of these past days is about: insisting that the horror does not have the last word. Our celebration is a disruptive act of refusal to give in to all that is broken and harmful about our humanity, trusting that God can take the very worst and help us start over.
So here are the things I want to remember about this Holy Week:
Don’t tell me an older congregation isn’t willing to try new things! The people of Holy Comforter continue to amaze me with their willingness to engage our worship without the kind of rigidity and insistence on form that teeters on the edge of performance for performance’s sake. It was not the intent of those of us who planned the worship for Holy Week to be different or “try something new” for the sake of being cute or obnoxious. The very talented staff that works with me helped plan and prepare good liturgy. What was offered was received with a reverence that filled these days with meaning and beauty.
It’s supposed to be hard. Even though the worship schedule we put together this year was lighter than I’m used to, last night at about 7 p.m. I literally could not keep my head up a moment longer. I slept until 6 this morning.
What good does it do to have Holy Week and promptly forget? I come back to the line from Gerard Manley Hopkins I first heard from my boss at the Ascension a few years ago: “Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east,”. That is the prayer. Indeed. May he easter in me, easter in us…