Back in my old parish in NYC (Church of St. Luke in the Fields) Easter is always more than the just the "Highest Holy Day of the year," oh no, at St. Luke's, Easter is a week long Love Fest! As Easter approached here in Barford, I wondered how I would cope without the traditions and practices I know, love and hold so dearly.
A few weeks back, I got into a rather interesting discussion with a visiting Anglican priest at St. Peter's. Somehow, we got on the topic of liturgical practices and (surprise, surprise) I was quite firmly on the pro-High Church side of the debate.
"But, God doesn't require all that to be praised," the wise, old priest smiled at me with kind, warm eyes. I resisted the urge I felt to scream, and instead smiled sweetly and replied: "You're absolutely right, God doesn't require it, but God certainly deserves every bit of it." (I have to say I was rather proud of that one.)
The way I see it, there are so many other things, institutions, people that we are willing to "bow down to," metaphorically, of course. We worship and reverence wealth, power, money, attractiveness, status, celebrity. We lavish limitless pomp, ceremony and grandeur upon our fellow mortals, a few examples: fans queue for hours to catch a glimpse of their favorite screen siren in full regalia on Oscar Night; we rise to our feet when a judge enters a courtroom, and so on.
I also believe that ritual is central to the human existence. I would argue that our predilection for ritual is what makes us human. The action of ritual enables us to underscore the significant of a particular moment, and it is the means by which we are able to transcend the mundane to reach the divine. God may not need all the "smells and bells," but I certainly do.
So, it was to be an Easter without liturgical pyrotechnics, and to be honest, I was more than a little sad about it. But, resilient and resourceful gal that I am, I vowed to make a real go of it here in Barford (and beyond), and try and enjoy Easter as it is observed in my little village.
The week began with Palm Sunday. There was an early morning procession to the church through Barford. A merry band of Barfordians gathered outside the Village Hall, and waited for the choir and the clergy in the glistening morning sunlight. After a few prayers and responsive readings, we progressed to the church.
Although there were no special services for the Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of Holy Week, St. Peter's Church was open each of the days for prayer and reflection. Maundy Thursday was the first big official, service day.
On Holy Thursday, Her Majesty, The Queen, gave out "Maundy Money" at St. Edmundbury Cathedral. This is an ancient royal tradition, that dates back to the 13th century. (Love that!)
I attended a quiet evening service at one of Barford's sister C of E parishes, St. John the Baptist in Wasperton.
The church at Wasperton is tiny and old. Not as old as St. Peter's, St. John's is a lovely, wooden 19th century chapel. Very sweet. The service--like most in these parts--was very low-key and pared down; though utterly sincere and heart-felt.
There were a number of services to attend on Good Friday, and the D.E.B. and I chose to go to the afternoon service at St. Peter's. As we arrived, The D.E.B. was roped into service, and asked to read the role of "Peter" in the Passion story. (I was very proud.)
Holy Saturday was spent prepping for Sunday -- the D.E.B. and I had invited our friend Sally (Not "Sally, the Cake Baker") for Easter Lunch. We cleaned and tidied, and I made at start on my big baking project: Key Lime Pie. (Easter requires a bit of citrus zest, I think.)
Saturday afternoon we attended a small soiree in the churchyard honoring the reinstatement of the Church Clock (see post: "Watching time"). After the bells chimed 12 noon, there was a champagne and canape reception in the unseasonably warm and sunny weather.
During the reception, our wonderful Vicar made his way over to me, and asked which Easter service I would be attending. My heart sank.
Secretly, I had been planning to sneak away from Barford village, and attend the big Saturday night Easter Vigil at the Collegiate Church of St. Mary in Warwick to get my "smells and bells" fix for the season.
I had no choice but to confess my temporary defection: "Easter Vigil really means a lot to me," I stammered, "I'd planned to go tonight to St. Mary's." The vicar looked crestfallen. "Oh, all right then." he said sheepishly, "I'd hoped you'd come along to Easter Vigil here, tomorrow morning, and do a reading."
The Vicar is such a cutie-pie, I couldn't just let him walk away. "I'll do it." I said before I knew it. Before I realized, I'd committed myself to the 7:00 AM Easter vigil service! Yikes, making it on time for 9:30 AM is a enough of a challenge as it is.
The D.E.B. is such a sweetie, after I told him what I'd done, he went to the Vicar and volunteered to do a reading as well. "Since you're going to the 7 AM service, I'll go, too. Don't want to be home without you." (Isn't he a doll?)
So, it wasn't exactly what I had planned, or hoped for, but I am learning--slowly, but surely--to take life here as it comes. And in the end, the early morning Easter vigil service was lovely.
We crept to the church through the quiet, cold, sleepy streets of Barford. It was still dark-ish, as dawn was just breaking. We arrived to find a small gathering of faithful souls. The candle-lit service was truly beautiful. I was so proud of the D.E.B. when he got up to read. (I love his voice.)
Because there was such a small number of us, we were all able to sit on the altar where the choir normal sit. It was such an incredibly intimate experience, as was celebrating the first
communion of Easter with the D.E.B. kneeling beside me. That's almost too much to take in, even for a goofy Episcopal girl like me! Heavenly.
After the service we were all invited to the Rectory for breakfast with the Vicar and Mrs. Vicar. Then home to prepare Easter Lunch. The salmon was divine (Thank you, Delia Smith!), but my Key Lime Pie was an absolute disaster (Thanks for nothing, Martha Stewart!).
Thank goodness Sally had brought along a lovely sherry Trifle for "pudding." And there was lots of champagne, chocolate and laughter.
So in the end: No smells. No bells. But lots of love and Easter joy.