Monday, April 6, 2020

Holy Week At Home

I will be honest and say that I have truly struggled to find the energy to observe Lent and prepare to celebrate Holy Week this year.  I usually delight in observing the church year and celebrating these things with my children, in our home.    And yet this year, a year without church when I know I should do these things at home more than ever, I have not been able to summon the strength.

And somehow it wasn't until Saturday night, the night before Palm Sunday, that it occurred to me that of course, I needed to ask for the strength since I couldn't find it within myself.

For the first Sunday of this already long quarantine, yesterday we got dressed instead of live-streaming church in our PJs.

I faced the day with an energy I couldn't have found within myself after yet another night of restless sleep and many long Braxton Hicks contractions.

My emotions have been up and down with the coronavirus self-isolating going on.  Some days I'm able to proceed with life pretty normally, and other days it's just... sad.  The idea of Holy Week without church has been the hardest adjustment of it all for me, maybe even harder than the idea of having a baby during a global pandemic.  Holy Week is my favorite time of year, hands down.  The Triduum is something I look forward to for all of Lent.  And it is worthy of being celebrated gloriously, even if we are all doing that in our respective homes.

Having found renewed energy over the weekend to do what we can to celebrate this week in our home, I was creating a document of resources so I could organize my plans, and then I realized I might share them here as well, in case they are helpful to anyone else.

Throughout Holy Week:

The girls will finish coloring in their Lent "maps," something we do each year as we count down the days to the long-awaited Easter Sunday.

They will continue our Lenten tradition of earning small beans (this year it's coffee beans) to place in a jar when I notice them making a sacrifice or particular kindness on behalf of someone else. When they come downstairs on Easter morning, all those coffee beans will have been replaced with... jelly beans!  {I usually get the dye-free jelly beans from Trader Joe's, so again, we are flying by the seat of our pants this year without being able to make the usual shopping trips to pick up little things here and there.  I may try to make a trip there, but everything takes more forethought and planning right now, for sure.  I actually haven't been to a grocery store since March 9!}

We've placed our little "Resurrection Garden" in the center of the dining room table, where it will stay until Easter (when I'll move it and hopefully replace it with a bouquet of flowers, if we can manage to get some, virus notwithstanding).  Most years we plant little succulents in amidst the twig and wire crosses the girls make, and nestle our small flower pot "tomb" in there.  This year we didn't venture out to get succulents, so some moss from the backyard is sufficing.

A few years ago a wonderful and more experienced mother than myself shared with me the idea of lighting a group of candles during Holy Week, and lighting one fewer each night as we approach Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  We've been doing this for several years now and it's become a special tradition.  On Holy Saturday when we remember that the light of Christ was lying in the tomb, we don't light any of the tea lights.

I also keep a Bible and a book of Bible stories for Children nearby at all times, and have chosen to add something specific to the journey of Holy Week to each night's little "tablescape."

Palm Sunday: Palm fronds (or this year, spruce branches) can be placed amongst the candles.

Monday: We read about Jesus casting out the money changers from the temple after he arrived in Jerusalem; some coins scattered on the table symbolize this story.

Tuesday: We read about Jesus's foretelling of Peter's denial; the kids bring a toy rooster to place on the table.

"Spy" Wednesday: Coins on the table again, this time to symbolize Judas's decision to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

Maundy Thursday: Hearts of some kind (paper works just fine) to symbolize the new commandment to love one another.

Good Friday: I bring a piece of cloth to the table and let the girls grab hold of it together; we tear it from top to bottom to symbolize the curtain of the temple being torn when Jesus breathed his last on the cross.

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Those are some of the things we'll be doing throughout the week.

Specifically in the later part of the week, our church will be live-streaming small presentations specifically for the children, which we will be eagerly looking forward to.

At home, we'll also be doing some of the following:

Maundy Thursday:

Just as our church usually does foot washing for all of the children, we will do this at home this year. Afterwards, as we recall the Last Supper, we'll eat something simple and vaguely Mediterranean in nature -- I'm thinking dates or other dried fruit, a flatbread of some sort, olives, maybe a chickpea-based dish.   I don't think we'll attempt a full Seder, but I do have some interesting Seder resources I plan to look over and see what we can manage to incorporate.  We will certainly re-read the story of the first Passover, and talk about how every year at Passover the very same things were said and done, but at the Last Supper, Jesus "said and did things that no one had ever said or done before."  This, again, is language our children are accustomed to hearing at our church.

Thursday night I'll make my hot cross bun dough, so it can have a cold overnight rise in the fridge and be ready for Friday morning.

Good Friday:

We'll start the day by baking our hot cross buns and piping crosses onto them.  Hot cross buns are always a bit of a mystery to me, as the Triduum is such a holy and dark time of Lent, and then -- let's have some super sweet buns!  But maybe that's why I like this spelt recipe; it eschews the usual  fluffy sweetness for something a little more hearty, and replaces the white sugary icing with dark chocolate piped crosses.  I came across this recipe years ago and while it's definitely not a traditional hot cross bun, I love it and I just can't go back.  I mean, you can't go wrong with the dried apricots and dark chocolate combination.

And in the afternoon, while we won't be able to go to our church's Good Friday service for children, we will do the stations of the cross (which is the format of our church service) here at home.  I found some wonderful Stations of the Cross coloring pages, and since my older two girls are in a phase of total coloring obsession, I think they'll really enjoy working on these.  On a smaller scale, you can print this booklet or this one for an at-home Stations of the Cross.

We have a small olive wood cross I've set up on our mantel, and we can say together like they're used to hearing in church on Good Friday, "Behold the wood of the cross, on which was hung the world's salvation." / "O come, let us adore him."

We will probably also listen to a performance of a movement or more of Stabat Mater, an oft-set text about the sorrowing mother Mary standing at the cross.  I'm partial to Pergolesi's, and in particular I find this historically-informed performance to be a fantastic one.  So I'll watch it with my kids, and hope they've inherited my love of a good suspension or two (or even better, four solid minutes of them).

We'll end our observance of Good Friday by veiling our little cross and our icon of Christ on the mantle.

Holy Saturday:

Observing Good Friday and Holy Saturday with very young children is something we try to do gently in our family, and I have always appreciated that our church does this as well.  We tell the truth about Jesus's death on the cross.  But we focus on the fact that the light of Christ, the light of the whole world, could not be put out.  That he rose again from the dead, and that he is with us now.

A good part of Saturday by necessity is usually spent in some preparations for Easter.  While those preparations will be considerably lesser this year, I am still hoping to do a nice Easter dinner for our family, and clean and decorate the house for the occasion.  It lightens the darkness of the day a bit for the kids to get involved in all the getting ready for Easter, too.  They are looking forward to the celebration.

Easter Vigil: 

In addition to following along with what our church live streams, I think Nathan and I will do our own little version of Easter Vigil at home with the girls.  Easter Vigil is the single best church service of the year and I just can't imagine not having it in whatever way we can.

If you want to hold your own version of Vigil, you can find the service in the BCP for ideas.  And if you don't have a copy, you can access the entire thing, or different services individually, all online right here.

It's such a special service, to hold Vigil with Christians around the world as we remember Christ passing over from death into life.

"This is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave."

A few basic elements: begin in darkness (sundown is a good time for this without getting to be too late for children), light a Paschal candle, do whatever portions of the liturgy seem appropriate to incorporate (depending on how young your children are, you may not be able to manage the whole thing, although the Scripture readings for the occasion are wonderful if you can manage them all), then make an Easter proclamation, bring up all the lights and make some noise!  I'm thinking Nathan will pound out some jolly chords on the organ we have in our home and the girls and I will ring bells, but you can substitute as necessary for your family situation -- shouting, singing, piano crashing, Alleluia-ing, bells ringing!  We'll also unveil our cross and icon.

At the conclusion of whatever small Vigil you may have, it's customary to break the Lenten fast and have a treat.  We'll definitely be doing something involving chocolate!

Easter Sunday: 

It's a celebration day, yes, even in the midst of a global pandemic and a quarantine.  Assuming we can manage to procure the right groceries between now and then, we'll have a special breakfast while Nathan is at work (the work of a church musician is never over; or at least, it certainly isn't over on Easter Sunday morning), and we'll watch the livestream of his church service at Park Street Church, or our own church, Christ the Redeemer (or both!), and sing our favorite Easter hymns from home.

Once Nathan gets home, we'll enjoy Easter dinner together.  I'm thinking the usual fare of ham, potatoes, rolls, a few vegetable side dishes... but in the current grocery situation our country seems to be experiencing, you never know!

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It's not going to be the same this year.  But that doesn't mean we can let it all go by uncelebrated.

So we will continue on this week, with the recognition that "death {and also COVID} in vain forbids him rise," and get ready to say on Sunday, "Alleluia!"

And we will rejoice in knowing that so many others are saying it with us, even if we cannot see them or hear them this year.