Last week was my first Holy Week working at a parish. It was also my first Holy Week working at a parish as a pastoral associate, basically the gal charged with making sure everything goes smoothly. That is not to say that I did this alone. There were so many (SO MANY) volunteers whose helping hand or “I’ll pick up the cake!” or “Fran collects the towels after the foot washings” or “Did you remember to put guards on the taper candles?” all significantly contributed to making Holy Week and Easter so beautiful and so holy at our parish.
A couple of months ago, I first sat down with an amazing parishioner who has been through many a Holy Week from behind the scenes. We talked for two-and-a-half hours about the details and preparations that go into the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter). There was a moment during our conversation when my eyes welled up. Sitting there thinking of all that I would need to do to make these holiest of days happen at our parish, I mourned a little that I would be working Holy Week instead of celebrating it.
In this first stage I was overwhelmed by the volume of tasks that had to be done. There were so many volunteers to contact and inform. Everyone from the lectors reading the Passion narrative on Palm Sunday to the good people putting on the post-Easter-Vigil reception. It was so much to keep in my head and I kept worrying and wondering if I had forgotten something big, something important. I woke up more than once at 3am my head spinning wondering if I had enough olive oil for the Holy Oils or if enough people had responded about the foot washing. Would desserts come through for the post-Easter-Vigil reception? How many pink hydrangeas is too many, really?
Then, at about the 5th Sunday in Lent, I had the blessing of witnessing an incredible performance that narrated Jesus’ road to Passion and Resurrection from the perspective of the women who walked with him. In one more imaginative scene of the Resurrection we hear from Martha. As all of the disciples are being readied to go forth with the Good News, Martha shrinks back into a corner, hoping that she will not be sent to preach and yet also knowing that she will feel left out if Jesus does not include her in this new phase of his mission.
Jesus comes over to her in the corner and tells Martha how grateful he was that, in his last days, he had a place, had her home, to go to and feel safe, to be able to relax and to be himself with his friends. He told her how much her hospitality meant to him. His commission for her was to create a place where the disciples could come to restore themselves, to find respite, to pray together, to break bread together.
I prayed into this little reflection on St. Martha bringing to it all of the work I knew lay ahead of me in the coming weeks. This is my job, isn’t it Jesus? It is my job to create the space, the home, where the disciples can come and be rejuvenated, be made new together, pray together, break bread together.
From then on, yes, Holy Week was still work, a ton of work (so much so that despite my best efforts I had to take two comp days this week because I was still so exhausted!); but it was work with a holy purpose and that made all the difference in the world. I celebrated Holy Week from a different perspective than most people in the pews last week, but working Holy Week from behind-the-scenes has its own honors, its own intimate secret celebrations.
It was left to me to prayerfully bury last year’s Holy Oils and prepare the newly-blessed ones for presentation at the Holy Thursday Mass. I placed the numbers on our Easter candle. It was I who pinned back the curtains of the tabernacle to reveal its emptiness on Good Friday. These are privileged, sacred–yes small–duties. And despite their smallness, they helped me to remember that my task of preparing the space was not insignificant, no, not at all. I began to realize how small acts done with great love really do make a difference.
When the time finally came, when Holy Thursday Mass began and swept us into the holiest Three Days culminating in that blessed Alleluia of Easter, I took a deep breath and stepped into the Triduum.
I had cleaned and readied the house, the guests had arrived, the many people taking part in the celebration were ready to enact their particular service, and Jesus came, really came, to be in our midst.
The only thing left, the one thing necessary, was to be in the presence of the Messiah. Alleluia.
Happy Easter, everyone!
Do you work in professional ministry or are you a “professional volunteer”? I would love to hear how you balance working with worshipping. It’s something I’m still trying to learn!