Holy Week 2019
Something has been gnawing at me through Lent, and now that we're finally on the other side of Easter it's time to speak it aloud:
Did we overdo it?
I think 99% of Episcopal churches are entirely closed today, the day after Easter. And this is probably as it should be.
We had a full Holy Week with all the proper services: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Great Vigil of Easter. And we even did a few extra ones (Tenebrae! Stations of the Cross! Holy Communion with Autoharp, or whatever instrument we happened to think would work best!).
But more than that, many places that do not otherwise have them will implement daily Eucharists in Holy Week.
And this seems really good until today. The problem, you see, is this: the Collect for Monday in Easter Week.
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we who celebrate with reverence the Paschal feast may be found worthy to attain to everlasting joys; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
And it's not just this one. There's a collect for every day in Easter Week. That's because Easter Week is a Big Deal.
Easter is not just one day; it's a season. And the Church, in her wisdom, seems to want it to begin with a great big week of celebration.
So why do parish churches that go out of their way to offer daily Eucharists in Holy Week fail to do so in Easter Week? Am I missing something? (And yes, I know there are places that admirably celebrate Holy Communion every day.)
Where are our big festivals this week? Concerts? Evensongs? Special services? Puppet shows? Anything?!
“Easter Week finally rolls around and what do our churches do? Well, the first day we close, and then for the rest of the week? Not much.”
We say that we are an "Easter People" and yet Easter Week finally rolls around and what do our churches do? Well, the first day we close, and then for the rest of the week? Not much.
It's pretty quiet around the church the week after Easter Day. Choirs have the week off and typically just show up to sing some less demanding music the following Sunday. The clergy take a holiday if they can, and parishioners generally know better than to ask a lot of a church staff that has given 110% and left it all out on the field.
So, while I applaud our collective obsession with Holy Week, I have to ask again: was it too much? If we truly have nothing left for Easter Week and the Easter season then I have to posit that it was.
A few years ago I quoted N. T. Wright when I shared the 2014 "Easter from Kings" made-for-TV liturgy.
"We should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind. This is our greatest festival. Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity… This is our greatest day. We should put the flags out."
And this is what has been gnawing at me. What are we doing to celebrate Eastertide? I mean really celebrate it? Note that Lent is only 40 days. Easter is longer, and it's longer for a reason.
It is the week of weeks. It is roughly one-seventh of the year. It is the Church's sabbath festival.
This and the above quotation by N. T. Wright come from his Surprised by Hope
But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday…and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration.
…Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?
"N. T. Wright on Easter". The Rabbit Room.
So did we really overdo it? Or does the Church just need to work harder to reclaim an "Eastertide imagination"?
Update from 18 April: more thoughts along these lines from the Rev. Canon Charles LaFond: imbalance - Easter
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