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Posts Tagged ‘Holy Week’

memorial church harvard spire branches blue sky

We have arrived at Holy Week, again – after a long, gray Lenten season that felt like it would never end. Last week, a cardboard box of palm fronds (shipped from Minnesota, of all places) arrived on my doorstep, and on Sunday morning, we passed them out to the waiting hands at our tiny church. I stood in a pew waving my palm branch and snapping pictures with my phone as the kids (and some adults) walked a few laps around the sanctuary, singing songs anchored by the word Hosanna.

Later in the service, we did what we do each week: paused to mention specific prayer requests for our church community and the world. People raised their hands readily to ask for prayers for a pregnant sister, a jobless husband, an ill mother. But when Nate asked about prayers for the wider world, we fell silent, as we often do. Where to begin?

I thought of the chemical attacks in Syria, of the churches bombed that day in Egypt, of the refugees still pouring into Europe, searching for a home. I thought about the headlines that inform so much of my day job: when you work in communications at a school of government, ignoring the daily news is not an option. There is so much fear and anger and unrest, everywhere, and I don’t always know how to react to it all, much less form the words of a coherent prayer.

We always end with the Lord’s Prayer, reciting it aloud in quiet unison. We say it, too, at the weekday Morning Prayers service at Memorial Church, where I have ended up more and more often this year, walking across Harvard Yard to tuck myself into a carved wooden pew right behind the choir.

All winter long, and into this fitful spring, the same line has made tears well in my eyes: On earth as it is in heaven.

I don’t know much, of course, about what heaven is like. I doubt the images from our Sunday School lessons get all that close to the reality of it, and I don’t believe that’s the point, really. But I believe in a world beyond this one: a world of hope and redemption and deep, untrammeled joy, watched over by a God who is making all things new.

I also know that life on earth isn’t like that: the glories of this life are always mingled with heartbreak. We are so far, so much of the time, from any vision of peace and justice and love. There are glimpses of it: spasmodic tricks of radiance, if you will. But we are not there yet.

Holy Week is a time when we enter into the full dramatic scope of the Christian narrative: the triumphal (though unexpected) entry into Jerusalem, the bittersweet last meal with the disciples, the jarring tragedy of arrest and brutal crucifixion. During this week, we walk alongside the disciples as they watch Jesus give himself up, and for a few heart-stopping days, it looks like the horrors of this world have won. It looks like grief and fear and hopelessness. It looks like the headlines I see every day.

Here, in the middle of Holy Week, it can be hard to see the pattern: it looks like heartbreak and struggle, rather than triumph. It looks like tears and frustration and unanswered questions, and soon it will look like deep anguish. But then, in the early hours of Sunday morning, it will start to look like hope. The sky will start to lighten, and the earth will hold its breath. And then – out of the tomb, out of the very heart of darkness and despair – will come the joy.

This week, as I walk the streets of Cambridge, I am also walking a different road: the one that winds through Jerusalem, all the way up to Golgotha. The songs from the Easter pageants at my childhood church are running through my head, and I am remembering how it felt to be part of it all, as a servant of the wise men, a young bride at Cana, a villager joining an angry mob that later became a choir of praise.

For us, Easter Sunday isn’t the end of the story: we still have to contend with the brokenness of this world. But it is worth celebrating that one glorious day when already and not yet meld together: when, for just a moment, on earth as it is in heaven becomes real.

If you’re observing Holy Week (or simply looking forward to Easter), I wish you a blessed one.

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green leaves snow spring winter

I looked out the window on Palm Sunday evening to see a streak of gold sunset against grey, lowering, heavy clouds. That morning at church, most of us hadn’t had enough sleep (or caffeine) to muster up a lot of enthusiasm, but we passed out the palm fronds anyway. My husband, fighting a sinus infection, led the procession around the sanctuary, kids and adults singing “Hosanna” and “Salvation Belongs to Our God.”

The next morning, we woke up to swirling, blowing snow: an inversion of the recent weather pattern that has coaxed the crocuses and some early daffodils and tulips out of the ground. I pulled on my snow boots and trudged toward the subway, dreading the biting wind. But by lunchtime, the storm had blown itself out, and scraps of blue sky peeked out from clouds grown suddenly fluffy. I walked down to my favorite cafe for a bowl of soup, snapping photos of green leaves sticking out of fresh snow.

We are days away from Easter, and it’s technically spring: we have turned the clocks forward, observed the vernal equinox. But it all feels topsy-turvy: we are squinting in the bright sunlight even as we dig out the down coats again, then exchange them for umbrellas. I am grateful not to be fighting the deep snowbanks of last winter, but this season keeps catching me off balance. I don’t know what to make of these up-and-down days, their refusal to form a linear progression. It does not feel like a measured journey toward something new.

I started a new temp gig last week, across the street from the one I’ve held for the last four months. The people in both offices are kind, and the work is similar: the kind of university communication that has paid my bills for years. But I haven’t settled into my new routine yet, and everything feels off-kilter. The sunlight slants at an unfamiliar angle across my new desk, and I’m still learning the contours of this place. And I don’t know, yet, what will happen next. (This is the constant refrain of the past year.)

I haven’t paid much attention to Lent this year: my energy has been focused on getting through each day. The broader arc of the season has been difficult to see. But it strikes me that this is how the disciples must have felt during the first Holy Week, especially toward the end of it. The events right in front of them – dramatic and heartbreaking and also deeply mundane – demanded much of their attention. They couldn’t see the pattern until later. And the light, when it broke through, caught them completely off guard.

This season, while difficult, has been full of unexpected beauty: crocuses poking up through the hard earth, acts of kindness that have carried me through some tough days. It has been hard in the ways that waiting and uncertainty are hard. But there has also been sharp light and sudden joy.

As I do every year during Holy Week, I am humming songs from long-ago Easter pageants, making plans for Easter Sunday. I am trusting that these mixed-up days, these tangled weather patterns, will eventually lead us to spring. I am doing my best to pay attention, to notice the small gifts of each day, and to hold on to the promise that something new is coming. Even if I can’t see it yet.

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the empty tomb

We are – suddenly, it seems – headed toward Holy Week, as the temperatures (slowly) rise above freezing and the calendar spins toward April. The first half of Lent (with snowbanks up to my elbows) seemed to drag on forever, and many of those frigid days were simply about putting one foot in front of the other. (Carefully, since the ground was covered in snow and ice and half-frozen slush, not nearly all of which has disappeared yet.)

Holy Week for me, here in Boston, revolves around the two Sundays that bookend it: Palm Sunday and Easter. Palm Sunday means a sheaf of green, spiky palm fronds, waved in the air from every pew as we sing various songs containing the word “Hosanna.” It means planning the service to include glimpses of the Last Supper, the garden of Gethsemane, the long walk to the cross. We end in silence, and it feels off-kilter, unsettled. (As it should.)

Easter means lots of logistical details: special music, an Easter egg hunt for the kids, finger foods after service (during said egg hunt), lilies for the altar. My husband and I don’t handle all this alone, but we are right in the thick of it, and this year the timeline has caught me completely by surprise. I haven’t had time to think about what it all means, to walk through the story the way I want to. We are scrambling a bit, because Holy Week has shown up suddenly in the midst of our ordinary, walking-around lives.

I was in Texas last week visiting my family, and on Sunday morning I sat between my parents in the sanctuary of the church where I grew up. They’ve stopped producing the elaborate Easter pageant that was an almost annual occurrence from the mid-nineties to the mid-2000s – a huge chunk of my growing-up years. But sitting there, two weeks before Easter, listening to Doris play the organ and George conduct the choir and orchestra, it all came flooding back, the way it does every year.

I remembered stepping carefully down the church aisle wearing gold harem pants, playing a servant of the three wise men (one of whom was played by my dad). I remembered racks of costumes in an empty Sunday School room, presided over by Janice, a calm, white-haired woman who is a genius with a needle and thread. I saw the sets – the stable in Bethlehem, the wedding at Cana, Pilate’s balcony and the long table in the upper room and the bare hill of Golgotha – take shape again, before my eyes.

breaking bread

I remembered so many faces I knew: the people who taught my Sunday School classes and served on committees with my parents, faces I saw in the choir loft every Sunday. Friends of my parents’ and their children; my own friends, and their parents. My mom, helping with costumes and props; my sister, acting alongside me as a servant or a villager; my dad, playing “everyone but Jesus” (six different roles over 12 years). And George, our beloved, infinitely patient music minister, who led us through weeks of rehearsals and performances with kindness and grace. We stepped into the story of Jesus together, in a way that made it newly real and powerful even for those of us who have heard it from the cradle.

This year, I haven’t had time to think about Holy Week – it is suddenly upon us, the way spring is breaking out at odd moments around here. But I have woken up every morning this week humming songs from the pageant. I’m trying to remember half-forgotten lyrics and smiling over memories both onstage and backstage, and seeing the scenes unfold again in my mind.

Maybe I don’t have to think about it so much. Maybe I can simply pause for a moment and remember how it felt: the darkness of Gethsemane, the haunting melody of “Via Dolorosa,” the jarring sensation of shouting “Crucify Jesus!” with the crowd. And the undeniable power and joy of the final, triumphant song – “Hallelujah to the Lamb.”

Maybe I can simply remember – and let the story enter in again.

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