One of my enduring memories of celebrating Easter is of being stood outside the front porch of my old church, as it went dark on Holy Saturday, waiting for the fire to be lit, and then, later on in the same service, the declaration, ‘Alleluia! Christ is Risen!’, to which we would respond, ‘He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!’
I think I sung the Exultet for about 3 years running, first in my old church in Manchester and then at the Catholic House of Prayer on Iona. For those who don’t know this is an old Easter prayer used by Roman and Anglo Catholic churches, beginning ‘Rejoice, Heavenly Powers, Sing choirs of angels’.
I remember attending the Thursday night vigils, the Good Friday commemorations at the foot of the cross, praying the Stations of the Cross, and going to church early on Sunday morning and waiting for the Gloria! to be sung – and one particular early morning where we sung the Gloria just as the sun broke through the East window.
In short, when it comes to Easter, the enduring memories I have, the best celebrations and commemorations I can recall, are all from a high church tradition, all very ‘catholic’, very heavy on liturgy, following rote formulas of commemoration, vigil, prayer and praise down through the centuries. And this year, I missed it.
My heart feels heavy, as if somehow I haven’t been able to follow Jesus through Holy Week in the way I wanted. Something has been absent from my pre-Easter activities and preparations, something incredibly important – a sense of place and importance and holiness.
I have, of course, prayed, I have read the passion accounts from the Bible, my partner and I sat down to watch Mel Gibson’s blood-soaked account of the passion the other night, and we have spent long hours talking about our faith, our beliefs and our experiences of Easter. But certain things require the presence of friends, the assurance of liturgy, the formality of church, in order to hold the meanings that they used to.
This is not to say that there aren’t churches nearby that follow this pattern and offer this style of worship. But we, as men in a gay relationship, do not feel welcome at these churches. The church we do go to welcomes us with open arms but it is not a traditional, liturgical church by any stretch of the imagination. The service this morning will be a beautiful one of celebration but to celebrate the resurrection without first commemorating the crucifixion seems a little strange. We were going to attend our village church on Friday evening, but 7pm on Good Friday felt 4 hours too late to worship, and there was still the question of how welcome a gay couple would be.
So we are left with a quandry. Do we follow the liturgy, either from my Common Worship book or my partner’s Missal, ourselves at home next year? Do we find somewhere in one of the cities and travel however long we need to in order to join in the services we missed at a welcoming church? Do we bite the bullet and go to one of our local churches and ignore the pointed stares and condemnation? Any one of these is possible, but there is one thing we cannot do, and that is to live with the sense of loss and absence of Holy Week worship that we have had this year.