When I was 16 or 17 my sister invited me to join her for the Holy Week liturgies in a neighbouring parish. She approached Holy Week almost as if it was a time of retreat. Their church was round, with the altar and sanctuary in the middle, the first modern church in Northern Ireland built after the reforms of Vatican II. As it happened a priest with a special gift for liturgy had been appointed there and alongside the existing exceptional choir and a very committed lay liturgy group, we had all the ingredients for an uplifting experience.
It was my first real encounter with the journey from Palm Sunday, through the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, the Altar of Repose, and Holy Hour into Good Friday and finally the great Vigil of Easter. I think my mind really engaged with the Word proclaimed throughout those days, spoken and sung, telling the story of Christ. I was fascinated by the various characters who appear in the dramatic telling of this story, especially Peter, feeling his sorrow when the cock crowed for the third time, and Judas too, not to mention sleeping disciples, the ear being cut off the servant of the High Priest, the thieves and soldiers, the jeering crowds, his mother’s distress. Then when Easter came, the women finding the tomb empty, His clothes rolled up. Wondering what, risen from the dead implies, how to comprehend resurrection.
I was happy and sad, enthralled and confused, excited and heartbroken, while all the time trying to work out how this was love in action, why Jesus died for my sins, and what saving the world meant. I can hardly remember what I knew at that age of salvation and eternal life, of God’s plan in sending his son into the world, and why he had to die so young.
I came away from those days with a lot of questions, much confusion but also a conviction that I wanted to know more about Jesus of Nazareth. Almost 50 years later, this week, above all others, remains for me the most engaging week of the year. There is so much to learn from The Lord’s sacrifice, his suffering, his pain and then his glory.
As we seek to find where the Spirit is leading the Church today, we might find the answer hidden in our experience of this coming week.