I once spent Holy Week on retreat with some monks and nuns then living at the Royal Foundation of St Katherine. It was an extraordinary experience for we did Holy Week ‘properly’. Each day there were different meditations in the chapel which was kept in the most puritan of simplicities. On Good Friday, all images were covered and the altar was shrouded in a cloth. Some of us kept vigil on Holy Saturday night, and all of us were up at dawn to light a fire outside and take the light into the chapel. Here we found colour and light, flowers and all the shrouding of Good Friday taken away. The service was joyful and splendid. Then we had breakfast and the nuns had spent hours decorating our boiled eggs and making a real break from our fast.
What made it so special for me, standing out from other Easter Days, was the tension the religious community had created. The before of solemn preparation and quiet, of sombre colours and shrouded images and the after of colour and noise and celebration. It is all too easy to allow things to blur; for the rhythms of the Christian year to meld together into a uniform grey. We turn Advent into Christmas, and sweep seamlessly into Easter as Lent is forgotten.
The 1st of March is the beginning of Lent – a season of preparation for the joy of Easter Day. A time to be reflective, perhaps to choose some sort of fasting, or some sort of special discipline of prayer or kindness. A time to think through what God is doing in our lives, and wants to do through our lives. It may even help to create a tension when Easter Day can be felt as a relief, the end of the fast!
Easter is, of course, not a simple story of tension resolved. It isn’t for example a fairy story where everything goes horribly wrong but then it turns out alright even though we weren’t expecting it. Easter Day isn’t the happy ending to a bleak Good Friday. If the Easter Story were a drama the climax would be Good Friday and Sunday would be the divine applause. Easter Day doesn’t resolve the bitter struggle of the cross, quite the opposite, it confirms that the Cross is the right, the only way, for God’s love to rule. This is truly hard to hear, the ‘stumbling block’ or the ‘folly’ that Paul writes about in Corinthians. So, from Wednesday 1st of March we fast, at least as a metaphor, so we can feast. We hold back so we can let go. We wait patiently through trial and tribulation so we can rejoice in Easter Day.