Since we have had school aged children we have lived our lives according to the rhythm of school terms and holidays. Originally we would have the really LONG first term, followed by the much shorter and more manageable second term and then third term full of interesting activities leading up to Christmas and the summer holidays. Just recently we have had the change to a four term year and each of the terms is now a manageable 9 – 10 weeks. We still seem to be begging for the end of term to come, despite the terms being shorter, but we are always ready to go back to school again too at the end of the two week holidays.
At university (where I work) there is also the rhythm of semester and break. First semester starting in sunshine and long days, the mid semester break at Easter time (the week split in two so that the break can incorporate the Easter long weekend). Then the mid-semester test, always there, straight after the Easter break. Then the days draw in closer and get darker and colder and we head for exam time. We have a fairly short break (three weeks or so) after the mid-year exams and then start semester two (usually with the the addition of the semester two blues). By the time we get to week seven and the mid-semester break, the days are getting longer and life feels more manageable again and we head into summer exams, the show day long weekend, and the long, long summer break.
And, as we attend an Anglican church, our church life is full of rhythm and tradition. The Anglican church even has special traditions for the Sundays that aren’t part of the special celebrations. They are called ‘ordinary Sundays’ and I always found it special that even the normal Sundays had a name.
We are entering holy week, the most precious celebration of the Christian faith. The one it’s all built on. And this morning I started thinking about the traditions that we have, both official and unofficial.
Today is Palm Sunday, we remember how Jesus entered Jerusalem ‘lowly and riding on a donkey, the colt, the foal of a donkey’.
It is not face-palm Sunday, no matter what the meme says.
The palm crosses were handed out as we entered the church as they have been for (I guess) hundreds of years. Ours were made last week by the children of the church, and that’s a much better tradition than the one I remember from my childhood which is that the children of the church destroyed the palm crosses as the service went on. I think moved on to Dad’s cross once I’d destroyed my own.
Another tradition that I remember from my childhood is the singing and processing that went with this particular festival of the church. Every palm sunday we would sing a hymn and wander (oh, I’m sorry, process) out of the church through the back door, around the property, and back in through the front door again.
The hymn is scored into my brain:
All glory, laud and honour
To thee Redeemer King
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring
The children of the Hebrews
With palms before the went
Our prayers and praise and anthems
Before thee we present
All glory, laud and honour
To thee… (maybe you get the idea)
There’s about 5 verses with a chorus between each one, with the idea that it will last long enough for the brown’s cows (sorry, congregation) to make their way out of the pews into a straggle (sorry, line) about 2-3 across, and then wander around the block. My memory is that every year, never failing, (even when the side door was open so that we could get an update on the way past) we would all be singing in a completely different key and also a completely different verse to the worship leader, once we got back into the church. Also, that we would go through the hymn about one and a half times, perhaps even two and a half!
We don’t do that any more. I can see why, but I did enjoy that tradition!
Of course, a super special day is coming up. Good Friday.
I’m one of the people that likes to totally get into the spirit of Good Friday. It is one day a year when I really focus on what the day is about. I wear black, I encourage my family to wear black too. DS doesn’t need much encouragement – it’s been his favourite colour since he was about in grade 2. There was that one year where his t-shirt on Good Friday said ‘come to the dark side – we have cookies’ which didn’t go down well with the Bishop’s wife! Oops! But anyway, I wear black and I usually cry. Though that’s not planned.
After our beautiful and reflective church service we used to have a tradition of processing again, behind someone holding a cross, walking up to the local shopping centre where we would meet up with other churches for another small service of unity. That was also a lovely tradition but because all the shops are closed for Good Friday I did wonder about the use of it as an outreach.
Then hot crossed buns for lunch.
One tradition I’ve never followed is that of having fish for tea. What I eat for tea on Good Friday really depends on what is in the fridge. I didn’t even know fish eating was a tradition until I was in my twenties!
Easter Sunday traditions: eggs of course! Lately in our family we have bought an egg each – a big kinder surprise one with a big toy inside. Then we have taken one each to hide and then had a mad and noisy hunt all over the house. That tradition meant that DH and I could join in the hunting, and the eating. So much fun.
Last year I hid about 20 chocolate eggs in the house, then went to spend Easter with DD in Canberra. As the days leading up to Easter Sunday went by, the boys began to find the eggs, so they hid them again, in new hiding places. When I got home after Easter I asked them how many they found. They didn’t know, they didn’t keep track! I found the last two eggs from that particular hunt in December sometime.
The Easter Sunday church service is an amazing time of celebration. Amazing music, colour, joy, love.
After church on many Easters we have gone to join the Easter march – another (yet another) procession of Christians from many churches. In the city this time. With added donkeys, balloons, music and performances. And traditionally, it’s been very, very cold. Very cold. With lazy autumn breezes going right through us and occasional rain. Then home for tomato soup and toast to warm up.
Traditions can be bad. People can get hung up on the details and lose the body of the tradition – the reason why. We can use tradition as an excuse to stop thinking. We can put the tradition first and the people last and hurt people for the sake of keeping the tradition rolling.
But traditions are also important in building community, in giving structure to our lives, in giving us roots. In times of uncertainty traditions can remind us that ‘this too will pass’ and that there is something everlasting that we can cling to. This morning, in my upside-down life, I found the tradition of Palm Sunday comforting. The structure of the tradition gave structure to my life, and I revelled in it.
Whatever traditions you have this holy week, I pray that you will feel part of a community and that you will know joy.