Thursday, March 20, 2008

Stripping the altars

I'm so grateful to feel less groggy today. I'm coughing, unpleasantly full of phlegm, but functioning a it better. I've been filling in the empty hours of the last few days thinking about and writing when I've felt up to it, material for our Spiritual Capital Research project report. I begin to feel that with the Gweini survey data, we have a relevant kind of advocacy for the participation of religious communities in civil society, that will raise some debate, and hopefully action. It's great to be involved with several excellent creative and analytical minds in forging something useful.

I couldn't go to the Cathedral for the Chrism Eucharist, as bidden. The noon Eucharist of this day still attracts people who might otherwise not make it to the evening service. Today, two elderly women joined us whom I'd never seen before. As soon as I'd given her Communion the second one said : "Please pray for Mary, who's been told she has two weeks to live." I turned the post Communion prayer into a prayer of commendation. Afterwards the other woman came up to me, tearful, and re-iterated the request, saying "She's in hospital, where we met her and she's afraid." She had the tears of helplessness in her eyes. Glad I was there for them to be able to pour out their souls' concern in trust.

After lunch, one of the excavating machines digging up Working Street severed a power cable outside church, so we were faced with the prospect of a candle-lit service tonight and more worryingly, no amplifier to carry my pathetic voice, and no heating for tomorrow's Good Friday service. Thankfully, praiseworthily, Western Power had it all sorted by six thirty, so we sang the Maundy Eucharist thoughtfully by elcetricity, and departed in darkness, as the ritual requires.

Evan and I stripped the altar after Communion - we don't do the procession with the sacrament because we don't offer Communion at the end of the Good Friday Liturgy, and nobody wants to stay on and keep Vigil. If I'm honest, this kind of devotion is not really part of this church's long standing tradition, even though they love Eucharistic worship and give it their all. No point in trying to impose something others may have tried introducing without success, just because some book says you should. You can't force-feed the flock!

As we approached the altar together, Evan siezed the huge linen altar cloth in the middle and yanked it deftly, unceremoniously off the altar, neatly into a bundle. Normally he is a tidy, methodical man, but it wasn't the uncharacteristic nature of the action that struck me. It was the sheer impression his action created, a kind of visual shock that was entirely appropriate to the moment and its sombre mood, summing up the painful disruptive drama of stripping away the safe and familiar, exposing us to the emptiness of the moment the Vigil of the Passion begins.

I wonder if anybody else noticed? By that time Psalm 88 was already under way. We're only a silence away from Golgotha again.

Will the diggers be operating in Working Street tomorrow, or is it a construction workers holiday? I should have checked.

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