During the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, back in March, I was able to spend some time with Kerry Weber, author of Mercy in the City, which we have used for the structure and content of this year’s Lenten retreat here on the DDF blog. I asked her, “What’s next?” So here we are, talking about Lenten experiences and how we might be led to the next thing.
What I love about Holy Week is that I have so many opportunities for engagement. I belong to a faith tradition that has liturgies beginning with Palm Sunday, going on to Holy/Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday. It’s an exhausting week, but it’s a wonderful and spiritually healthy kind of exhaustion.
What I don’t love so much about Holy Week is that the events we relive are so far removed from my culture and time that it can be difficult to connect to Jesus’ Passion. I am fortunate in that I have never lived under foreign, brutal occupation, which was the reality in which Jesus grew up and carried out his ministry. I am somewhat familiar with Judaism, but much of Jesus’ story is not part of my collective memory or family culture.
So how do I approach Holy Week in ways that help me connect to Jesus’ story?
It’s always felt natural to do mindful house cleaning during Holy Week, partly because sometimes I’m preparing to serve a meal on Easter Sunday, and even if the only guests are members of my own family, I want the house to be hospitable in every possible way. The cleaning itself can be methodical in a way that helps me meditate on Christ’s Passion. In fact, years ago, my cleaning-house meditation led to a poem, which we have posted here before.
I don’t schedule social events during this week, because it’s already full with attending multiple church services. I don’t want my energy to be divided and would rather be able to stay awake during the liturgies, to concentrate on the Jesus story.
For years now, I have watched the Zeffirelli movie, Jesus of Nazareth, sometime during Holy Week. It’s about six hours long, so I might watch it entirely on Holy Saturday, or do portions of it through the week. Although it’s a movie and of course does not portray everything “accurately” by anyone’s standards, Zeffirelli captured the geography (filmed mainly in Morocco, which has similar characteristics to the actual landscapes), much of the Jewishness, and in a few scenes, the humanity of Jesus. This film might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but aspects of it continue to feed me and help me feel a bit closer to the events that we remember during Holy Week. I never fail to weep during the scene when Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross, and his mother holds him and keens in the pouring rain.
I don’t try too hard. This is why I attend all those liturgies, which have stood up over time. It’s enough for me to read along and join the prayers and listen to the Scriptures read and soak in whatever music we have. It’s enough to notice the wall hangings or altar cloths, the priests’ vestments, the faces of those around me who also try to connect personally to Jesus of Nazareth. I don’t have to construct theology or come up with a spiritual prayer. I simply need to be there and to pay attention.
Please add your ideas about how to attend Holy Week, how to live in it, and how to be present to the mysteries.
Two of my favorite books are about death, dying, and funerals. One is by poet and essayist Thomas Lynch—The Undertaking. The other is by theologian Thomas Long—Accompany Them with Singing. Both books deal with the (American, at least) tendency to avoid dealing directly with death and dying—and why that tendency is not good for us […]
Kerry Weber explored the “bury the dead” work of mercy by talking with a grave digger—mainly because health and safety codes prevent a person from actually participating in a burial. Then I see an older man waiting near an official-looking truck and wearing khaki and green. I walk up to him and ask what he […]