I first started going to church when I was in my late 20s. My very first experience of church was High Scottish Episcopal with bells and smells and all the drama I could have asked for. And I loved it.
I vividly remember my first Holy Week. Each night I went to church and watched the story unfold. Outdoor processions waving palms; listening to the harrowing story of the Passion being sung; compline; footwashing; the stark stripping of the altars; the Watch at the Altar of Repose; Confession; walking the Stations of the Cross; three priests in black throwing themselves to the ground on Good Friday making me gasp; the Veneration of the Cross; the preparation of the church on Holy Saturday; and then the Vigil of Easter at midnight with fire and light and water and alleluias. That first Easter I was so happy and I believed.
By the end of it all, I couldn’t believe how emotional and tired I felt. It was as if I had been to the theatre every night for a week and been traumatised by what I had seen. That first Holy Week has stayed with me ever since. The smells of incense and a myriad of candles; the images and lack of them; the taste of a ‘dry mass’; the dark and the light.
The following year, as Holy Week approached, we were sitting in the pub after church. I asked if there was a book I could get that would explain it all to me. This year I wanted to be prepared so that I knew what was going to happen. A few people shook their heads and muttered that they couldn’t think of a book that would help and then one man said, “Yes, I know of a book that would tell it all.” I took out my filofax, got my pen, and said, “OK, what’s the name of this book?”
“The bible,” he answered wearily.