Hello. This is Mark (the “Collar” in “Kippah and Collar”) with a long overdue inaugural post for his part of this ‘joint’ blog. We’ll see how things go, but I hope to post much more frequently (though ‘more frequently’ than one per year should not be hard).
We are now far into Lent. Today is the fifth Sunday, meaning that there are just twelve more days left in the season (Sundays are technically in Lent but not of Lent by most reckonings). A week from now is Palm/Passion Sunday, that strange amalgam created by a modern liturgical calendar trying both to follow the last week of Jesus’ life as closely as possible (the liturgy of the palms) and striving to ensure that the story of Jesus’ last supper, trial, crucifixion and death (liturgy of the passion) is told on at least one Sunday of the year for the benefit of those people who do not attend any special services during Holy Week. That Sunday, 28 March for Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, will mark the beginning of the full weight of festive observance.
As a minister, Holy Week is usually a busy one for me when I am regularly leading a congregation in worship, as I am at the moment, albeit on an interim and part-time basis. Put aside for the time being the fact that I come from a tradition that has only rediscovered the liturgical calendar relatively recently. At minimum, the week usually will include services for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. The congregation which I serve presently is part of a local grouping of parishes which has a tradition of joint services on the Monday to Friday of Holy Week, with each of five churches hosting a different evening and people preaching at places different than their usual pulpits. That means that I am involved in the planning and leading of two services, one as the worship leader for a hosting church (on the Tuesday) and one as the preacher elsewhere (on Maundy Thursday). I will plan on attending other services, too—except for Saturday, most probably, as the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition does not often include an Easter Vigil in its repertoire.
This all seems rather straightforward. Of course a minister will be busy during the highest holidays of the church year. But ever since Alana has entered the picture, things have got more complicated. The beginning of Pesach usually falls sometime during the Christian Holy Week, bringing with it one or two Seders and the need for Alana to stay away from leavened bread. The complication does not really lie in scheduling hassles—one can live with those for the most part, and plan around them. Rather, the uneasy juxtaposition of Pesach and Holy Week problematises aspects of my celebration of the holy days, unveiling tensions lying at the heart of my faith. I am not just talking about the shameful historical connection between Good Friday liturgies and Christian anti-Semitism, including accusations of deicide which rationalised the most horrific of pogroms and other oppressions. The dangerous power that speaking some words unleashes should not be tolerated, but, really, I was grappling with constructing conscientious liturgies before I met Alana.
No, the questions which come draw even deeper. They turn a suspicious gaze upon key doctrines. What does it mean to sit down at the Seder one evening and sing ‘Jesus Christ is risen today’ the following Sunday morning? As a Presbyterian minister, I preach Christ crucified, our companion in our hurts and betrayals who accompanies us to the darkest places of human experience. I also preach resurrection, that there is something in the mysterious grace of this accompaniment that points to new life, to hope, to transforming love and joy that is supposed to be for the welfare of all the world. Where I once considered that I had already devoted due reflection as a minister and a theologian upon my understanding of Christology and related questions of community, experiencing the holidays in close proximity with one another reveals that I have much more thinking to do.
What does this mean for me both as a partner and as a worship leader? These things, too, require thought. But when all is said and done, I do not believe that this is a bad thing. Just not an easy one.