Holy Week reflections (bit of an essay this one)

This year I was on holiday from my day job during Holy Week. I say ‘holiday,’ it was time for PhD work, so I was at home with no London commuting (hurrah). The benefit of that was I could attend all weekday services – the first time I’ve been able to follow the week in one church. Previously I haven’t been home from work in time and I’ve dodged bits of Lent and Easter in at various City churches – my Ash Wednesday attendance was a lunchtime event, for example. Palm Sunday was the first time I’d taken part in the donkey-led procession at my home church, too.

It’s been ‘interesting.’ It’s the most I’ve been in church in one week in, well, ever. Being at home meant I could structure my week around the church in an orderly fashion.  There was a lot of silence in the week, both at home and at church.

Monday to Wednesday

Monday to Wednesday we said Compline and heard a short talk. I was only introduced to Compline a couple of years ago but I do rather like it, and say it sometimes at home. I tried introducing the Pentecostal friends to its beauty – they were almost convinced. I’ve got an iPhone app for it… but it was good to be part of a group of people for a change. I thought a lot about one talk in particular and the various ways in which we deny Jesus – not as dramatically as Peter, but more insidiously.


Maundy Thursday’s foot washing and transition from festival to waiting was unexpectedly moving. Not in a ‘shed a genteel tear’ kind of way but in a ‘crikey, I didn’t see that coming’ two-hanky situation. I am not one to over-spiritualise things, to the frustration of the aforementioned pentecostal friends, I think, who probably suggest I under-spiritualise (in other words, everything needs a rational explanation and will be thoroughly questioned). Anyway, whatever was going on, I found myself thinking hard about leadership, humility, friendship, love, loyalty, fear and waiting. Lots of thinking about fear and waiting. I like to believe that if I had been in one of the disciples’ place that Passover evening I’d have been strong and overcome my fear, but I expect at best I’d be angry and confused and I’d probably be the one running away starkers after the guards grabbed my tunic. The transition from feast to waiting was stark – never seen the altar stripping before – and those symbolic things made quite an impression.

Another first was returning for the vigil – signed up for 30 minutes, stayed for an hour. This was another surprise – I’m not great at silent prayer, my thoughts usually run off faster than a tunic-less man in a panic s0 I tend to write things down when I want to reflect or pray by myself to counteract that. I’d not claim that the entire hour was spent in fervent prayerfulness, just a lot more than I had expected. Would I have managed to stay awake all night, waiting? What was so compelling that time sped by for me?


Had the same feelings of time passing fast on Good Friday – two of the three hours of the afternoon’s event. I can’t look lightly at the stark wooden cross at any time, and with Thursday’s experiences I found it even harder than usual. So the invitation to take my own nail was eye-wateringly tough and it took quite a long time of being glued to the pew before I could stand up and walk to the front of the church. It was exhausting just being in the congregation – it must have been shattering for Teresa and the ministry team.


Back to the waiting, thinking, praying, and then Saturday; a return to normality in some ways but with the ‘background noise’ of thinking about the frightened, grieving, disappointed disciples and friends of Jesus with their continuing watching, and waiting. Saturday evening and the vigil – return to splendour, new fire, excitement – candles, noise; came as a contrast and I am still not sure how much I liked that. I understand the argument for Saturday evening but I almost felt like I hadn’t waited enough, that I had probably had too much of a normal Saturday, allowed the thinking to be only background noise and not centre stage. My reaction was, I am afraid, to go home and drink one or two large glasses of wine.


9.45 Easter Sunday and the church is packed. Bear in mind I’m normally one of 20 there for an 8am or 6:30 service and it’s a shock for it to be so busy. A good shock, but busy, and so I’m sitting in the middle of a busy pew at the front of the church. There was everything you’d want in a festival Eucharist including the addition of a gentle amount of incense. Not so much to make a major impact (unlike my badly chosen seat at Ash Wednesday when I got the full force of the gospel being censed) but enough to notice. I was pleased to be part of that joyful service because it did mark the end of the grim week. Or at least, I did think it was going to mark the end, but whatever it was that was niggling at me hadn’t quieted, so I betook myself back to Evensong for a more reflective Easter Sunday. Which really was the end of the week.


It has been a good week – a thought provoking week. In a trivial manner it’s made me feel more at home in church, and I’ve met a few folk for whom I am a stranger as they only attend 9.45s. I’ve heard and read the texts for each day several times, which has increased, not diminished, their impact. Sneaked in a post-Compline beer mid-week which helped grow a friendship. I allowed myself to be pathetic and emotional (have horror of being spotted being tearful in church, don’t tell anyone). Well, to be honest, not sure I had choice in that one. Following the whole journey was a Good Thing. It was good to just show up, but I wonder if I would have preferred to have had a job to do. Certainly, with the weeks of Lent going past so quickly, having a week of contemplative time was such a treat, if that is not too odd a choice of word.


One comment

  1. Sounds like a good experience – I listened to the Good Friday liturgy on radio 4 and went to St Paul’s Cathedral yesterday and since hadn’t been to church for 2 weeks before that I think this might be the most churchless lent I’ve had in years…

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