This one is not just me because I see it and hear it elsewhere. All Christian festivals come with their highs and their lows.
At Christmas time we get caught in the excitement, and love the crowds coming to greet a baby. We try to fit too much into a week, and then have to add in the funerals, schools and other expectations. By the afternoon of Christmas Day, we are collapsed in a heap, promising ourselves that next year we will pace ourselves.
The highs and lows of Lent, Holy Week and Easter come in a different form. They begin with the small niggles about unfamiliar, dreary hymns. They are unfamiliar because unlike Christmas carols, they are not belted out at every opportunity in a hurry to get to the main event. No-one wants to hurry to the crucifixion. At times Lent is dreary, because the Gospel stories within that period ask us challenging questions about how we cope with grief, ill health and loneliness. These are not topics we talk about easily.
There are of course good moments in Lent, when the stories blow open the door and throw a breeze through encouraging all to travel a well-worn path. We like the familiars of Mothering Sunday, even if it is confusing with lectionary stories about fathers and hymns about shepherds. But we enjoy the notion of nurture, and sharing in the potential to encourage growth in others.
By Holy Week we are all hoping that the hymns might get better, but if you thought we hardly sang Lent hymns, then we sing Holy Week hymns even less. It starts well on Palm Sunday though, we know those ones.
Of course, heaven help the clergy who like a bit of play acting. With Sunday Schools on holiday, processions can seem a little flat – although there are those who will give of their best to create a festival with twelve. Wandering into the church singing cheerfully, to a band of folk sitting in Presbyterian gloom is always amusing.
Monday to Wednesday are a struggle for for a congregation. They came on Sunday, why do you want them out the door again? Nothing much happens these days – according to sum. I’m not sure how to get across the fact that Jesus and the disciples visited the temple every day, walking from Bethany to Jerusalem. Most of a congregation don’t see or hear that.
Instead it all kicks off on Thursday, and there might be a hymn or two we recognise that night. So Maundy Thursday still has meaning for more than a few. They sense the purpose of the words and the action, a recollection of a night when life was changing.
Good Friday has too many emotions for some. It opens the bottle of uncertainty, guilt and grief that we have contained all year, and we fear that once opened we may never get it closed again. The pauses, the changing light, the fragrances, the voices…all of these seep into the unconscious self, tearing at emotions we didn’t know we felt.
Few mark Holy Saturday in a Presbyterian tradition. Vigils don’t fit in our pattern of worship. Three hours of waiting, and nothing much happening. Except new beginnings happen. The soil gets disturbed, and light seeps through.
By Easter Sunday its good to see the crowd return. We know these hymns and we’ll sing them with full volume. After all we’ve had seven weeks of hymns we didn’t know.
There are those among us who sometimes feel we wear the Christian festival we are sharing. Advent and Nativity comes tooquickly, and we’re never quite ready but we just get on and celebrate. Lent and Holy Week sometimes hurt, as the discomfort of the journey spills in silly comments and misunderstandings without experiencing.
But Easter will be worth it, as the light shines from the darkness of the journey.