It has been a while since I last blogged or preached, mainly because Sophia Prudence, my lovely first daughter, was born nearly eight weeks ago. I had intended to reflect on how her birth, just three weeks before Easter, impacted on our experience of Holy Week, but enjoying Sophia, entertaining family visitors, and going back to work has delayed my reflection until now. It was a week of deep lows at first, until we found God in an unexpected place and way.
Since I was around sixteen or seventeen years of age, whatever the current affective state of or commitment to my faith, I have attended just about everything I could in Holy Week. Walking with Christ through his final week always proved powerful and moving. When I felt called to communion with God and my fellow Christians, Maundy Thursday, with its footwashing, intimate sharing of the Last Supper, and the brokenness of the disciples' betrayal of Jesus, drew, sustained, and challenged me. When I was depressed by one circumstance or another, I felt deep in my depths Christ's solidarity with me on the Cross -- My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? That was never more true than my first year as a priest when Kaitlin's grandmother, Prudence, died (Sophia is named partly after her). I loved Prudie as my own grandmother too. Reading the Passion narrative on Palm Sunday left me sobbing by the time Golgotha came into view. But I carried on, knowing that my grief was Christ's too. When I needed to experience resurrection, waiting at the tomb of Christ at the Easter Vigil for His light to be rekindled drew me into the deep and recreative love of God. In the Triduum, my life and Christ's interwove in a tapestry of brokenness, healing, and new life. The Christian story became indistinguishable from my own through the grace of Christ. It was a Holy Week indeed, a meeting with God.
This year, however, for the first time in sixteen years, I went to nothing between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. Without trying to make excuses, it was because, on the whole, it would have either proved impractical or undesirable to take baby Sophia with us. On the one hand, there was hardly a church that offered a service for young families to remember the events of the Triduum. Regular family groups were cancelled (since it was half-term) and we only found one parish church that offered anything for babies and toddlers on Good Friday (but that was at a time when we receiving family visitors who had come from afar). On the other hand, it was made clear to us from either the adjectives used in advertising services, or by clergy themselves, that services were "contemplative," or "quiet," or "meditative," and were consistently late in an evening, i.e. not services to which a potentially screaming child would be welcome or even able to come.
By Maundy Thursday, after trawling the internet, checking out parish websites, and asking around, it had become clear that we would not be able to attend anything until the Family Easter Service on Easter Sunday at the local parish church. I felt pretty glum and experienced a degree of anger that, despite our wish to engage once again with the Christian community in hearing and feeling the Christian story, we simply could not. It was to be an Unholy Week. The first chance that Sophia had to be immersed in that great tale of God's love (whether she would understand anything of it or not) was doomed to impossibility.
Then we all found God in the most unlikely place: home. Kaitlin (my wife) and I had occasionally prayed together during Lent, but not since Sophia's birth. Prayer receded into an unspoken and unfulfilled intention as we worried about the regularity, consistency, colour, and smell of Sophia's poo, as we tried to begin to decipher what her different cries might possibly mean, in the midst of angst about whether she was warm enough or dressed appropriately, and in our questioning whether she was eating enough. At 4 am on Good Friday, Sophia woke us up for her night-time feed, followed by mandatory cuddle time. In the peace and lull of night, as Christ was beginning his Passion, we three finally prayed together for the first time, watched, and waited. The Holy had found us when we could not find the Holy.
In comparison to the liturgical marathons of previous years, this was a light Holy Week. But it taught me one lesson that I would never have learned any other way: the God of the mountain is also the God of the plain. Our God truly is present in all places, in all circumstances, to all people. What I assumed was an Unholy Week was actually the Holiest of all. And to all my clergy friends and colleagues: as you plan out Holy Week wherever you minister, remember those whom you unintentionally exclude (as I too have done in the past) and ask -- how can I help people find the Holy, and the Holy find people?