I know that Easter Day was yesterday, but we are just starting the Easter Season, so I have another 49 days to wish people a happy Easter! I hope your celebration of the resurrection was a joyful one, and if you didn't celebrate it, I hope you find a reason to!
This past week was one of journey, spirituality, thought, prayer, meditation and reflection. I made a very conscious decision to make something of Holy Week this year, by weaving my experience of Holy Weeks since I started as a Curate way back in 1996 with the usual pattern of observance in these local parishes. So I decided that we should have some kind of service each day of the week, with special effort made on Good Friday to have something in each of the five Parishes in the Five Alive Mission Community, along with an Easter Eve event as well.
So Palm Sunday saw me leading an early traditional Communion service, which was lovely, a short BCP 1662 Holy Communion containing a long 'Passion Narrative' then taking part and helping lead a procession of over a hundred people around our village (with help from Basil the Donkey and a lot of our local Baptist Brothers and Sisters) followed by a service in the Parish Church at which there were nearly 200 people...not bad for a village with about 700 inhabitants!
Monday of Holy Week was a 'service of Penitence and Holy Communion' which I have used since I was a curate, put together (using the format from Common Worship Order 1) by my training Vicar (ie the Clergyman to whom I was apprenticed!). It's a reflective and powerful service, with time for self examination and an opportunity to express our penitence by sprinkling a few grains of incense on hot coals and watching (and smelling) them being burnt up, in the same way that God takes our sin from us when we confess.
Tuesday of Holy Week was a service of Holy Communion with Prayers for Healing, again taking the idea from my Training Parish, but using the order of service provided by the Pastoral Prayer Common Worship. It is a service where we all acknowledge our need for healing and everyone who participates is invited to have hands laid on them and to be anointed with Holy Oil and to be prayed for individually - which everyone there did! I enjoyed this service as my colleague led it very nicely and I was invited to assist with the anointing.
Wednesday had a short service of reflection and prayers around the Passion of Christ. Though i had compiled it, it was led by a Reader colleague from here in the Mission Community. It took place in a lovely, little, brick built Victorian Chapel in the next village and offered lots of space for silence and meditation.
Maundy Thursday saw me trekking up to Exeter Cathedral for what is known as the 'Chrism Mass' and the renewal of Ordination vows, or rather 'Ministerial Promises' as it now - i am pleased to say - is open to all licensed ministers, lay and ordained. It was a 'smells and bells' event, more 'High Anglican' than I have experienced since I was Assistant Priest in St Augustine's, Kensington. A service in a style I have not really missed since leaving there, but a very moving and beautifully led service. The sermon, an exposition on the three readings for the day, was exceptional, and our local Suffragan Bishop, Bishop Bob, preached brilliantly.
In the evening of Maundy Thursday we had a Holy Communion service which contained the symbolic 'washing of feet' of twelve members of the congregation. Again a very good sermon, by my colleague the Curate, and a humbling and moving experience for me to preside at a service which particularly remembered Jesus' service to his disciples and on the night before his death the meal he shared with them and left us to do 'in remembrance of him'.
Good Friday had a morning service which I prepared and led on the theme of 'Cross Purposes'. It was quite lively, yet also (I found) quite profound. The service was very well attended, with a variety of prayers and activities. Two moments were particularly moving for me - one was where we all held up the crosses which we had made for a prayer together, and the other was where a large wooden cross, made by one of the congregation, was carried up through the Church and everyone there stuck a prayer to the cross, which was still there on Easter Sunday as we celebrated together.
Whilst that was happening another of the Lay Readers for the Mission Community was assisting in a joint service with the Baptist Church in another village. Then, instead of the three hour observance which some parishes have, we had three one hour services around different villages, of which I lead two. At noon we had devotions at the cross, with readings and reflections on the passion and a litany of penitence. There was lots of silence at this service as I am a firm believer that there are some things we don't need to keep chattering about! Not sure everyone was comfortable with so much silence, but in a busy world taking space to meditate on God's love is not a bad thing! At 1pm my colleague Ann led a group in prayers and a journey through the 'stations of the cross', whilst I travelled to another village for the 2pm 'last hour' reflections based on the seven last words of Jesus from the cross. Again, I am not sure the silence was appreciated by all, but again I think it is important to take time to do things differently on Good Friday.
Holy Saturday saw me taking Home Communion to one parishioner in the morning, then preparing a sermon for Sunday, then in the evening leading the 'Easter Vigil' which involved readings, canticles and hymns leading from the creation story to the empty tomb. This led into the lighting of the Easter Fire and the Paschal candle and the singing of the Exultet, which was vaguely in tune, though I am not sure that I managed all nine minutes correctly. We then renewed our baptism vows together and went home to wait for Sunday services, with some sleeping involved too!
That was my Holy Week. Overall it was very well attended, and feedback has been good. I will try and blog on Easter day soon, but that's probably enough for now!