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Holy Week: The week we live at church

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Spiritual writer, Kathleen Norris, in her book, "The Cloister Walk," shares her Holy Week schedule. It includes morning prayers, choir rehearsal, evening liturgy services but what I really noticed, was right smack in the middle of her afternoons, she wrote "NAP!!!" Yes, in capital letters and extra exclamation points.

I was grateful to read this, as if Norris gave me permission to admit the exhaustion of Holy Week. As we walk through the story of Christ's passion, I feel it in every atom of both my body and my soul.

My parish has a joyful processional for Palm Sunday. My school-age sons are radiant, waving their palm fronds as we parade into the church, our path lined with trumpeters and singers. We sing, "Christ Jesus, victor!" full force, smiling until our cheeks hurt.

We march around the corner to enter the church and see a lone bagpiper, playing a different tune, one foreshadowing death. I'll remember that just a week later the joyous crowd transforms to a jeering mob, calling for Our Lord's death. It's a vulnerability I feel in my own body, staying with me as we stand, my knees shaking, listening to the Passion readings.

This grief stays with me all week, as I turn the story over in my heart.

On Holy Thursday, the Last Supper, I imagine the repulsion of the men as they watched Jesus wash their feet. How could he lower himself to serve us in this way? They asked each other, not knowing what is in store for their beloved Christ.

That night, I lay in bed, thinking of Peter's denial and how that could so easily have been me. I make a mental note to take a nap after service tomorrow.

On Good Friday, my legs wobble as I move forward in the line for the veneration of the cross. I imagine myself, there before him in pain, dying. Even though I shouldn't, I attempt to control my emotions in front of my fellow parishioners.

I think of Jesus' last words as I wrap myself in a blanket on my couch at home: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus' loneliness and grief surpassed mine. He understands. I pray for peace.

And on Easter Vigil, even though our catechumens are baptized that evening, reminding us of the glory to come, my body is sore, my soul exhausted, like the children who fall asleep on the church pews.

I am waiting, and I wonder if the disciples remembered the psalm, that Saturday night, as they too waited: "Wait for the Lord; take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the Lord!" (Ps 27:14).

It's not just that first Passion that I am reliving. It's personal, my own walk with Christ, today, one where I so desperately need the season of Lent, to refocus my love and desires on him. And yet, my soul grieves too for the day when all creation is united with Christ, when we are all made new.

The next morning, I feel the weight of despair lifted as I ready the family for Easter Mass. The waiting is over! He is risen!

The dark colors of mourning have been replaced with our brilliant Easter best. The usher greets us at the door, saying we all look like a bunch of Easter eggs in our carnation pinks, robin's-egg blues and canary yellows. I embrace him and all the faces I saw this week; heartbroken and weary, we are now transformed, energized, our faces revealing freedom and love.

My friend Ann Marie says, "Easter isn't nearly as meaningful to me if I don't go through those liturgies first." I'd have to agree, as I watch the jubilant processional. My eyes are full of tears again but this time they are tears of joy as I sing with all creation, "Oh praise him! Alleluia!"

SHEMAIAH GONZALEZ IS A FREELANCE WRITER. HER WEBSITE IS WWW.SHEMAIAHGONZALEZ.COM.

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