Homesick for Holy Week

Ah, Holy Week. Slightly odd worship services most churches only do once a year, complete with lots of minuatie and logistical details that easily lead to long "notes for next year." There's trying to say something novel, or, if not novel, at least somewhat profound and maybe even somewhat memorable, about something that has been talked about for centuries.Then there's the endless cajoling, asking people to come to these services into which so much effort is going. Holy Week even includes talk about sin in denominations that try desperately to tend to shy away from fire and brimstone. 

If Holy Week can be so hellacious, why do I miss it?

Clearly Holy Week hasn't gone anywhere; I have. I haven't attended Holy Week services since 2008. I was in the early weeks of maternity leave in Holy Week 2009, we traveled to see family during Holy Week 2010, and this year I'm on duty at the residential high school where I work from Maundy Thursday through Easter Monday.

I probably miss Holy Week because I've been fortunate enough to have some really great ones. The first time I really observed Holy Week was ten years ago. I was part of a small group in the campus ministry that had committed to some Lenten disciplines. I showed up for a Tenebrae service and an Easter Vigil with no prior knowledge of what either was. I remember finding the services long and dramatic.  I was hooked in a way that was probably odd for a twenty something year old. One year in seminary I went to an Episcopal monastary for Holy Week. There was an altar decorated like a garden to pray in in the middle of the night on Thursday, homemade hot cross buns as we cleaned the sanctuary on Saturday, and great sermons throughout the week. The first Holy Week I was ordained, I laid prostrate on the nave floor on Good Friday and later listened to the choir sing a cappella, since the organ remained silenced during the Triduum. On Easter morning, I gave out communion to hundreds of people, many of whom I knew and loved. Holy Week and Easter have shaped me. Holy Week taught me about the power of liturgy to speak to the human condition and to what God has done in Christ Jesus. 

I don't miss the exhaustation, the never-ending bulletins, the running around to find clean towels (or any towels at all) for foot washing. But there's a lot I do miss. I miss that not only coordinating but also attending these special services used to be my job, that I couldn't get out of it even when I wanted to, that it was not only okay but mandatory for me to be there.  Now I've allowed it to be marganalized in my life. Now I know the pain of trying to fit a Holy Week observance into a work schedule, not to mention my family's schedule, that doesn't revolve around observing this week. Neither is easy.

I do teach some about Holy Week in my current role as a high school chaplain. In Chapel today, we will read the passion narrative, and on Sunday, the boarding students and I remembered some of the events that constitute Holy Week. It's just not the same.

As the mother of a young child, people are constantly telling me to enjoy my daughter while she's young. I feel like I'm doing the clergy equivalent of that right now. But you know what? Oh freakin' well. I know those parents with grown and teenage children are saying something true, as annoying as I find it at times.

If you've read this and have no clue what I'm talking about, maybe give a Holy Week service a try. They're a cultural experience if nothing else. My prayer for the parish clergy reading this is that somewhere in the midst of the nuttiness, you have the chance to enjoy some piece of your Holy Week.

3 replies
  1. Sarah K.
    Sarah K. says:

    This year, since I’m like 15 months pregnant, I’m not going to our Easter Vigil. It’s my favorite service of the whole church year, but we have so many people that show up Easter Sunday, I know that is where my limited energy is needed, but there is a weird grief that comes with missing it, even though it’s my choice to do so!

  2. Maria
    Maria says:

    I love love love Holy Week.
    Even though I am exhausted like no other time of the year. Even though I work insane hours. I just cannot not work now.
    This year, I preached Palm Sunday. I will assist in the Maundy Thursday service, lead the Vigil, be the main liturgist in the Easter Day service and preach on Easter Monday. The only big day I am not on call is Good Friday, and on that day I am in the pew, letting the tears roll down my face.
    Thank you for this, Ann!

  3. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    I look forward to “looking forward” to Holy Week again… after 3 years of 8 or 9 services in an 8 day span, I count down the services to eventually get to sleep in on Easter Monday. Thanks for sharing, Ann. I appreciate your words!


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