As Passion Week approaches we find ourselves looking forward eagerly to this one very special week in our annual cycle. Those who can take a week off work. Uni students use it as an excellent excuse to skip classes (is there a better one?!). And of course, off the shelf comes the dusty Passion Week Book for a bit of early revision of the chief hymns and readings.
It’s a very special week.
With a lot of very long Psalms. So today, I just thought I’d share a few ideas with you on how to get the most from your time in Church during all those very long Psalms.
1. Contemplate the Psalm
Delve deeply into the meanings of the words. Why was this particular verse chosen for this particular time? What light does it shed on the prophecies that came before it and the gospel that follows it? If you are good at Coptic, look for the slight differences in meaning between the two languages that often reveal some unexpectedly beautiful thoughts. Let the tune of the Psalm take you away on a flight of profound reverie and insight…
2. Contemplate the Gospel
What would it have been like to have lived through these events with Jesus? What do the gospels tell me about Jesus, His personality, His thoughts, His ideals and His manner with people? Get to know Jesus as a real person through this biography of His last days.
3. Contemplate on the events of the day
The Passion Week Book has some concise summaries for each day as well as for the week as a whole. They run to many pages and reading them on the appropriate day can help bring the service to life. And then there other books full of contemplations on the events of this week, such as HH Pope Shenouda’s classic on the Seven Words of Christ on the Cross.
4. Contemplate an icon
Special icons of Christ are placed at the front of the Church during the services. They help focus our attention on Jesus Himself. Take the time to look at the ocon closely, to think about those thorns piercing the soft flesh, or to see the love in those eyes. I love looking into His face as we sing “Emmanuel our God, is among us now…” at the end of the service – it helps make it real.
5. Read a good book
Is there a particular virtue you would love to learn? Read a book about it through this week. Or what about that great book you’ve been meaning to get around to for ages but never had the time? This is your chance for some serious reading. Scribble your thoughts in the margins. Stop every now and then to digest what you have just read and consider how to put it into practice.
6. Read THE Good Book
Tradition dictates that we read the Four Gospels, The Book of Psalms and the Book of Revelation through Passion Week:
Tuesday = Matthew
Wednesday = Mark
Thursday = Luke
Friday = Psalms
Apocalypse Vigil = Revelation
Evening before the Resurrection Liturgy = John
Bring your Bible with you and read, read read! You’ll be amazed how differently you see a Gospel when you read it straight through, from beginning to end, like a novel. All sorts of patterns and lessons show up that you never notice reading it one chapter a day.
7. Lay a major problem before God
This is your chance to have a nice long uninterrupted talk with God. Don’t keep carrying that burden around for ever! This is a good time to unload and let Him share the burden, as He has always wanted to. Let His comfort and His peace flood through you as you realise that He is in control, whatever happens…
8. Keep a journal
Often you will come upon some lovely and inspiring thoughts or contemplations as you pray in Church. Keep a little notebook handy, and when you sit down for the Psalm, jot down those thoughts, perhaps with the time and ‘Hour’ of the Psacha when they came to you. This little journal can be a great support and motivator in later times when you are feeling down or lost. Just pick it up and read it, and you will be transported back to that lovely time in Passion Week!
9. Have a chat with Jesus
How well do you really know Him? How often have you really just stopped to chat? You don’t have to ask for anything, and you don’t have to complain. What about just sharing your life with Him – He’s all ears! Or better still, what about sharing HIS life with Him? Tell Him how you feel about all that happened to Him. Let Him know that you care.
10. Play a DVD in your head
Some people’s brains are very visual. Close your eyes and play a little movie in your imagination of the events of that hour and day. Try it from different perspectives, different people’s points of view. Movie makers often develop a much better grasp of events they are reconstructing than anyone else.
11. Pray for someone in need
Perhaps your heart is bleeding for someone who is going through a very, very difficult time. This is a great time to pray for them. I mean, really pray for them. With focus, with passion, with faith, with confidence in the love of God. but don’t forget to say, as Christ did in Gethsemane, “Let Thy will be done”.
12. Help a bored child (or a harrassed mother – same thing)
Passion Week can be torture if you have to keep a little child quiet for hours on end. Some mothers (not all!) would love the chance to have a few minutes of peace and wuiet to enjoy the prayers. Bring some colouring pages or activities for a mother you know might need them or even offer to keep the child busy (quietly please!) to help her out.
So much to do, so little time!!!
No wonder in times past when life was less hectic people would spend the whole week at Church! But at least we aren’t living in the most ancient of Christian times, when Passion Week was observed only once every 33 years…