When I went on a choral pilgrimage in England a couple of years ago, I remember finding that each day I had a new favorite sacred space. Not once did we visit a place and I say, “Oh, well that one wasn’t as good as yesterday.” They all blew me away, and I had such a hard time naming a favorite when I returned home.
In some ways, Holy Week this year was like that for me. Every liturgy of Holy Week brought its own unique gifts and made me feel like the next liturgy could not possibly top the one I had just experienced. At St. Margaret’s, we began Holy Week a day early with our Cemetery Memorial Service on the Saturday before Palm Sunday. I am always amazed at how our Cemetery manages to create a community of faith, despite the wide variety of Christian backgrounds present, and I am grateful for the honor of helping that community remember their loved ones every year.
The next day, on Palm Sunday, we began our second service at the Cemetery cross and processed our way into the church. The sun was shining down on us, and our procession captured some of the joy of that day in Jerusalem for us. It was the perfect setup for our Passion Narrative.
We came back together Monday night for compline. I was amazed at how such a brief service could be so profoundly spiritual. As we chanted “Jesus remember me,” I could hear the echoes of our Passion Narrative from the day before. The next morning, I renewed my ordination vows with the clergy of our Diocese, and then came home for evensong led by our guitar group. We hosted the local Lutheran church, and I loved the musical selections of our music leaders. Their music brought a new flavor to Holy Week.
Wednesday, we headed over to the Lutheran church for a healing service. There is something quite sacred about laying hands on both parishioners and complete strangers that is entirely humbling as a priest. I really am so blessed to be entrusted with this ministry. That same humility overwhelmed me during our footwashing service on Thursday. The experience of both washing and having your feet washed is a profoundly intimate and sacred practice. Leaving the church with the bare, stripped altar that night brought a deep quiet over me that lasted until Saturday.
Our Good Friday liturgy electrified the experience of silence. Without music and adornments, the silence left us with nothing but ourselves to face. Though we did not sing at that service, I could hear the words from that favorite hymn, “sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble…” That night, our confirmands led our Stations of the Cross service. We used a devotional stations of the cross, and I was so proud of our confirmands. Despite their initial nerves, they led as confident young adults, and invited us into deeper reflection on Jesus’ journey to death.
Saturday morning, we took a brief break from the solemnity of Holy Week, and welcomed tons of children to our campus for our Easter Egg hunt. The laughter and enthusiasm of the children – whether with crafts, egg hunting, sack hopping, or simply running around – brought me back to why this life that Christ gives us is so precious. Their energy brought me back to my favorite liturgy of all time – the Easter Vigil. I cannot say enough about this service. From hearing the haunting music and words of the Exultet, to listening to our salvation stories in darkness, to ringing in the alleluias, to feasting once again on the Eucharistic feast, that service is one of the most powerful service the Episcopal Church offers.
And after all of that, you might think Easter would be a let-down. But looking at those much fuller pews just reminded me that no one can contain Easter joy. Our alleluias are louder, and our hearts explode with love for Christ and one another. There is no greater joy for us that day.
So you see, picking a favorite from Holy Week is actually quite difficult. I think the difficulty in choosing a favorite is that each service captures an experience with God – and no one can rank or rate experiences with God. They are all special in their unique ways, and would each suffice for spiritual strength for weeks. So imagine my joy in experiencing them all in one week. If going away for a pilgrimage is not an option for you, I invite you to consider using Holy Week as your spiritual pilgrimage next year. I guarantee you, you won’t be able to pick a favorite!