In the last few posts I’ve been pondering the events of Holy Week (well, Holy Weekend mainly). I’ll confess that for the most part these were posts I’d prepared a few weeks ago, knowing that on the actual days themselves I’d be on holiday with my family and might not have much time for writing. Without wanting to change what I’ve written, it’s struck me how different my own actual experience of these days – Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday – has been from what I’d written about them in advance. The theory and the theology just weren’t quite reflected in the actuality.
Maundy Thursday mayhem
On Maundy Thursday evening, my family staged an impromptu re-enactment of the Last Supper, with me as a slightly stiff Jesus struggling to remember lines from John’s gospel, my wife as Peter, 9-year-old daughter improbably doubling up as both John the beloved disciple and Judas, and 6-year-old son as… a small bird who’d got in through the window and was hopping around nicking the bread (his idea).
The only props were a piece of bread made of coloured-in paper and slightly resembling a shoe, a flat golden chalice also made of paper, a towel for foot-washing, and some sofa cushions for a table. The meal ended with Jesus and the disciples departing for the Mount of Olives, and also with the small bird lolling drunkenly on the floor having consumed too much of the wine (imaginary wine, in case social services are reading). The whole thing was simultaneously solemn and ridiculous, moving and hilarious.
Good Friday sunshine
Good Friday was not a dark or gloomy day at all but gloriously sunny; we spent much of it playing happily on the beach. The day wasn’t entirely without trials – my son wasn’t well, and for a scary ten minutes I thought my daughter was lost. But on the whole it was a beautiful and restful day of seaside play – paddling, rock-scrambling, sand-sculpting, rock-pool dabbling, surrounded by hundreds of other happy holiday-makers.
I did have one Deep Theological Moment during the day (only one), and wondered briefly what the day would have been like had it not been for that first Good Friday. What kind of a world we would be living in now, and would we and all these other people have been happily playing on the beach as we were? I couldn’t help thinking not. It’s easy to forget the profound effect Christianity has had on every part of society – certainly our modern western society; sometimes sadly for ill, but far more I believe for good. Whatever my views on Christendom, Christianity itself has reshaped our world, giving it an underlying foundation of humane laws and values. However full of wrongs, crimes, injustices and inequalities our society still is, I suspect it would be far less compassionate and caring if it weren’t for Good Friday.
A pleasant Holy Saturday
If I’d got round to posting about Holy Saturday, I’d have said it’s a day of grief, of quiet despair, of watching and waiting. But our Holy Saturday this year was a pleasant day of country walking among the prehistoric plant-life of the Lyme Regis Undercliff and Easter egg hunting courtesy of the National Trust.
A grey Easter
For Easter Sunday I’d written about glory and hope and partying. For us though, it turned out not to be a particularly glorious or celebratory day this year, despite our best efforts. The whole family was tired, a little grumpy and a bit under the (very cloudy) weather. Our attempt to sing joyful Easter songs at breakfast went a bit wrong; and in any case the only one my son really knew was about a chicken rather than the resurrection. We went out for a walk to one of our favourite places but my daughter wasn’t feeling up to it; we took an accidental long detour and ended up with slightly frayed tempers. Probably the best bits of the day were chocolate mini-eggs and Horrible Histories Gory Games on TV; not exactly ‘The Real Meaning of Easter’ (TM).
Theory and reality
Now I don’t think for one moment that any of these experiences invalidate the theology of Good Friday and Easter, of Christ’s atonement and resurrection, any more than having a crappy Christmas invalidates the Incarnation. The spiritual symbolism and significance of the events that these days represent and commemorate stands true regardless of on our own very variable and imperfect experiences of them. Indeed, in some ways these just highlight the importance of the spiritual realities; show how much we need the real things. On a miserable Easter day, the need for the deeper reality of Easter’s hope is shown up more starkly. (And conversely, a sunny and joyful Good Friday now may well be an indirect result of that first bleak Good Friday.)
It’s also good for amateur armchair thinkers like me to be brought back down to earth; reminded that there’s an even more important real life to be got on with alongside all the enjoyable theological theorising. Much as I love thinking and writing, I can’t help suspecting that it’s in the messy and unpredictable everyday realities of life and relationships that we’re far more likely to meet Jesus, and who knows, maybe even follow him a little.
So turn off your computer and go and live life to the full. But do come back for my next post. 😉
- Easter – all’s well that ends well
- Resurrection reflection
- Good Friday?
- Maundy Thursday – the longest night