Journeying Through Holy Week

Lucy Winkett invites readers to immerse themselves in the transformative journey of Holy Week, offering a diverse range of services and activities, from contemplative moments to joyful celebrations, to engage with the profound truths of life, suffering, and divine love.

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Lucy Winkett

The next 10 days are at the core of what it is to be Christian in the world today. And it’s not so much a matter of ‘going to church’, although there are a lot of opportunities to do that in the coming days. The invitation is to come together with others to immerse yourself in this story, which is a bit of a roller coaster: by turns challenging, confronting, inspiring, painful and ultimately transformational. The divine story that holds all who live and have lived.

This isn’t a story long ago and far away, but thoroughly contemporary, exposing as it does the human capacity for betrayal, violence, cruelty. It exposes the dangers of religion as an agent of social control, and for those of us who are part of religious communities, confronts us and challenges us to try over and over again, every day, to stay close to this story and try to live out what we say we believe. And the ancient rituals of the church demand that we feel it as well as pray it, that we ‘do stuff’ together as well as think about the themes or listen to sermons. On Palm Sunday, we are invited to follow the donkey (Clover from Hackney City Farm, who will arrive in the courtyard just before the service) around the church, down Piccadilly, through the crowds singing. We are ourselves a crowd carrying palms and then once back in church, we’ll hear the strong and confronting details of the gospel as Jesus is first of all adored, then betrayed, abandoned and ultimately executed.

On Tuesday 26 March, in the evening at 6pm, a contemplative service called a ‘Bethany Eucharist’ will be full of great food, conversation, heady wine, and the story told of Jesus spending time in a domestic setting with his friends before the very public humiliation that is to come. Come along and try it if you haven’t before.

On Thursday 28, Maundy Thursday, come and celebrate the Eucharist at 6.30pm and then if you want to, but only if you want to, you can have your feet washed as part of the liturgy. Many people find this a bit uncomfortable, but that’s part of the point: in the gospel, Peter one of the disciples jumped up when Jesus offered to wash his feet and simply refused at first. Challenge yourself, come along and see what happens. After the service, we will keep silence in the church until 10pm, listening to readings every half an hour. Stay for as long as you like for some silence in the middle of a busy city evening.

On Good Friday 29 March, if you’d like to join the Walk of Witness from St Pancras Church Euston Road, we will gather there at 9.30am for an hour’s quiet walk around the Kings Cross area, with ecumenical friends from other Camden churches stopping at various points to listen to a reading and pray. At 12 noon, the Three Hours service begins at St James’s. A spacious time, with plenty of silence, cello music this year from the amazing Estonian composer Arvo Part, including the stunning and moving ‘Spiegel im spiegel’. The gospel is read, poetry and music aid our reflection and we will contemplate Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. Again come and go as you feel able.

On Holy Saturday, the day when Jesus’s body is in the tomb, some quiet services in the evening also include a shared supper. There is the service of Vespers at 7.30pm in the church, supper afterwards if you can stay, and then compline at 10pm, after which the all night Vigil begins. If you’d like to join any part of this, you’d be really welcome. There are five St James’s people being baptised or confirmed at St Paul’s Cathedral that evening and they will come back after their service to join for supper. If you feel that you would like to try coming to the all night vigil, sign up and bring a sleeping bag on the day. It is an unforgettable experience staying in the church overnight, and being together at the Dawn service this year at 6.15am. Hearing the gospel story of Mary Magdalene who is exhausted herself in the garden in the early morning light before lighting the Easter fire is, especially if you have made your way through the challenging services of the week before, an amazing resurrection moment.

And then our Parish Eucharist on Easter Day is such an exuberant joyful explosion of ‘Hallelujah’ including the whole congregation being invited to sing the Hallelujah Chorus with trumpets and beautiful plants to take home afterwards.

I hope that you might just consider following the whole story, challenging yourself to be out on the street with the donkey, having your feet washed, daring to sit in silence, bake bread on Saturday night, get up at Dawn on Easter day.

The rhythm of life, death, new life is one that we see around us all the time in the natural world. And the hubris and politics of Holy Week we too recognise in our fractious and hurting society today. Taking time to go through all of it means that the hope of Easter Day at Dawn or at 11am is hard won, heartfelt, profound and transformative.

Come and follow this way of the cross as part of this community in the next 10 days. Especially if you’ve not tried it before. Give it a go? It’s a way to connect with the very deepest truths of life in the world; our yearning for peace and justice, our delight in friendship and our deep desire to commit to new life and new living. This story of suffering and inequality is played out every day on the streets of our parish and demands that St James’s community, in its widest possible sense, immerses ourselves in the unquenchable love of the divine that drenches every moment of every day if only we could see it and live by its truth. Every year, as a community, we are changed by our encounter with this story, this path of the cross, this death, and this irresistible invitation to live.