Seems strange to end my reflections on Heidi’s book Holy Solitude on Good Friday instead of Easter Sunday, but appropriate, too. In the final chapter, “Holy Week: Solitude and Confinement,” she writes about people who were involuntarily confined, including Jesus. On Good Friday Christians remember his crucifixion, but Good Friday began with Jesus confined. “There are moments in human life without hope,” Heidi wrote.
Holy Week can help Christian experience a range of emotions. At some points in our lives, this may be too difficult. I remember Holy Week six years ago, when my father, who had been gravely ill for fourteen years, was actively dying on hospice. I considered leaving St. David’s even though it was Holy Week to travel to Arizona, but my mom asked me to stick with my plans: that is, I already had a plane ticket for the day after Easter. “Your father and I want you to spend Holy Week and Easter with your congregation,” she said. That was an excruciating Holy Week. My heart was in Arizona with them, not in Virginia. I felt like I was going through the motions, especially on Good Friday, when I normally start the service prostrate on the church floor. (I wrote an essay about my struggle with being prostrate that published three years ago.) That year I couldn’t get down on the floor and knelt instead. In retrospect, I wonder if that prone position would have released my grief and I would have cried right there in front of my congregation, not for Jesus, but for my father. He died the day after I got there. “He waited for you,” people said.
Heidi asks, “What has been your experience of Holy Week in the past? Have you attended one or more Holy Week services before? If so, what is one thing you remember as particularly moving?”
For me, that would be the stripping of the altar. In the late 1990s, I attended a Maundy Thursday service when I was newly married and attending a Methodist church. I remember the altar being stripped. In my three years of being Methodist, I had appreciated the sparseness of the worship space. They didn’t have candles on the altar, for example, as Episcopal churches did. But I didn’t realize, until that night, how much there was up there, and how looking at those symbols of my faith week after week was a comfort. As each item was removed, I felt a sadness in my chest. The pastor and two assistants completely cleared the space, even removing the font, and I felt devastated. I still find that incredibly moving at the church I serve, even though now I am not watching it happen but rather participate in the act. I remove my own alb and chasuble and pectoral cross so that I am only wearing a black cassock, which I then wear for Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The most moving part for me is removing the reserve sacrament from the ambry and extinguishing the light that indicates Christ is present in the sacrament.
This Good Friday and Holy Saturday will be different than years past. St. David’s is finally open again but in a limited way. Every time we have a service we need a bunch of volunteers, and we can only have a limited number of socially distanced worshipers in the nave, and they have to sign up first so we can create a seating chart. So, we are not having services in the sanctuary again until 8 AM Easter Sunday. For Good Friday, we will have a Stations of the Cross Facebook album with photos created by children and youth in our congregation. Our Holy Saturday service will be led by a layperson on Facebook Live. We won’t have a Great Vigil of Easter service this year, because the physical distancing rules make it too complicated.
So now that Maundy Thursday is over, I find myself with a Triduum weekend to worship instead of lead worship. Last year, I was undergoing daily radiation for breast cancer during Holy Week and was diagnosed with lung cancer on the Monday of Holy Week and met with my cardiothoracic surgeon on Maundy Thursday. Everything else was a blur. I’m grateful that this year is different. I’m grateful to have Heidi’s reflection questions.
For those of you who are Christians, I wish you a blessed and holy weekend.
I will continue to write this newsletter, but not every week. I am going to try to write twice a month, so should be back in your inboxes sometime in April. Thank you so much for journeying with me through Heidi’s book. I know I’m going to return to it for future Lents.
What I’m Writing
One of my reviews posted this week in a new magazine from my alma mater, Spalding University. Check it out in The Good River Review.
Oops, just realized that my Palm Sunday sermon didn’t post. Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday will post on this sermons page of St. David’s website sometime next week.
What I’m Reading
Holy Solitude: Lenten Reflections with Saints, Hermits, Prophets, and Rebels by Heidi Haverkamp. Finished.
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw. Just finished this poignant collection of stories, after waiting on it for months at the library.
Sea Wife by Amity Gaige. Reading this library book now. Love the structure and mystery.
To Hell with It by Dinty Moore. I actually read this a few months ago, but this is the book I just reviewed. I was thrilled to be asked because I love the American Lives series from the University of Nebraska Press. Read more memoir!