It’s the week after Easter. That week where in benefices with more than one priest, one priest is trying to keep things together while the others have a well earned, well deserved break. Why is it so tiring? Why all those “Christ is risen, clergy are dead” jokes? What makes Easter so incredibly draining?
For one thing, people tend to keep Lent far more than they keep Advent. During Advent, we can safely expect Carol Services, Christingles and Nativity plays at any time in December. There will be more carol services than anything else, where the readings are set, the Bethlehem Carol Sheet dictates the range of music, and everyone expects and wants the predictable, the familiar, the well loved. People are happy to chip in with help – reading, sorting Nativities, making Christingles. It’s all part of the run up to Christmas.
But Easter, Easter you have to get gloomy. Someone needs to burn the Palm Crosses to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday. Easter you have to live through the study and austerity of Lent – and someone needs to plan and lead the study. Someone needs to plan and publicise Holy Week. Someone needs to help people enter into the story of the Last Week of Jesus’ earthly life – whether those people come to one event or more. There needs to be an event each day for those who want to walk the whole week, so there must be a sense of progression and shape – but each service must be intelligible and helpful in its own right, for those who can only get to church once. There must be a variety of approaches and styles, so that there is something for everyone, and if you are really really lucky, the location will be the one they are prepared to attend, not the one two miles away where they won’t set foot over the threshold – which is why every year the services are held in different places, even though some churches lend themselves to particular styles and services far more than others. Readings, music, meditations, bowls of water, tables and chairs, prayer stations, altar stripping, cross covering, finding one towel per person, it all needs planning.
You saw in my Holy Saturday Liturgy one small glimpse of what has to be done to make church services in Holy Week happen. I hope you found it funny. I hope the genuine gentle affection shone through. But I could have written that about any day from Shrove Tuesday onwards. There is a lot of running around in Lent.
But there is one more thing to add to the mix. Emotion. At Christmas, in spite of Herod, we are celebrating, and most of the secular West celebrates with us. There is just a hint of universal joy, just briefly. But Holy Week is about Death. Doubt. Darkness. Despair. They are all emotions which most humans experience. By the time you have read out loud about Jesus Christ being nailed to the cross, by the time you have led meditations on Christ’s wounds, by the time you have walked Ignationally (is that a word? Sorry Ignatius) with Peter or Mary or John or any of the others, you are wrung out. And by the time you’ve done that three or four times with different congregations in different contexts, dealing with people’s different reactions, and with the things that have pressed their particular buttons……you are very wrung out indeed. And your buttons will have been pressed too, but you can’t afford to think about that or deal with the consequences, because you’ve got to do the next thing. And the next, and the next, and then it’s Easter Day and you must Celebrate. Rightly so.
But Holy Week affects anyone who travels it seriously. We are each changed as different parts of the story engage us. Change hurts, it takes time, it takes energy. Two things in short supply for clergy and ministry teams during Holy Week.
So next time you wonder where your friendly vicar is after Easter, don’t. Leave them alone. Contact the churchwardens. And if you see a clerical collar wearer the week after Easter, be gentle with them. They are waiting for their own time off, the following week, and they are probably feeling impossibly fragile as they share Home Communions, chat, bury ashes, conduct funerals, meet baptism families and cope with whatever must be done. They adore their “job”, it’s the best thing in the world…but everyone needs a bit of down time. Alleluia, Christ is risen! Happy Easter!