Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. How easily we pass over them, eyes set eagerly on Easter Sunday. Or anticipating Thursday’s opening of the Triduum.
Our first half of Holy Week probably looks a lot like yours. Work. School. Kids. Meetings. Chores. Bills. The lackluster pregame show before the big kickoff. The forgettable prelude before the fanfare. The ordinary before the extraordinary.
But the church’s calendar claims these three are holy, too.
The earliest days of the holiest week are in-between: not quite Lent, not quite Easter. It is a time of anticipating what is right around the corner, practically within reach. We are almost there.
The Main Event looms large on the horizon. All signs point toward its arrival, but the journey here has been so long – can it really be coming?
Ahead of us lies both pain and joy, suffering and peace. How can we possibly prepare for all that? How can we hold all this tension at once?
These are the last days. They matter.
Soon we will remember how everything changes.
. . .
The end of the third trimester is a strange part of pregnancy. The eagerness of almost, the frustration of not-yet.
Like Holy Week’s emotional extremes, this time swings wildly: something to celebrate, something to endure, something to savor, something to push through. Both quiet and flurry, both calm and storm. Each day adding to our anticipation.
My mental countdown clicks steadily. Five more midwife appointments. Five more prenatal yoga classes. Five more weeks to finish all those pressing work projects.
Each Saturday the nesting instinct kicks in with greater intensity. Scribbled To Do Before Baby! list in hand, I clean out closets and drawers, watch the boys build the crib with their father, wash baby blankets and fold diapers in neat stacks.
Ready and waiting.
Every friend and stranger I meet asks how much longer I have left. Around us bubble joy and anticipation. A growing readiness to be done. An impatience to discover what (and who!) comes next.
I wonder. Have I done enough? Yes. And no. Like Lent, this journey of expectation is always bigger than me, beyond my personal penances, my tries and fails, my awareness of my own limits. I am carried by forces greater than my own.
And a calendar that presses ever onward, oblivious to the emotions with which I fill the hours.
. . .
I wonder how to honor this time rather than race too fast towards the end goal. How to see the holiness of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in turn.
These neglected early days of Holy Week are a different kind of preparation from the Lent that preceded. More immediate. Here and not-here. Upon us, yet still beyond our grasp. The mystery of the middle time, when we think we know what awaits us (all the Easters have we been through before), when we remember that we can always be surprised (each year bringing its own gifts).
Do I remember to reverence these almost-days, these overlooked ordinaries?
The Celts spoke of thin places, spaces and moments when heaven and earth seem to touch, only the slightest trace separating their realities. Perhaps Holy Week is a small hole through which we peer into the deepest mysteries of the life of God. We could never understand all that it contains. But each year we might nudge a little closer, if we try, to imagine what its truth might mean for our lives.
I watch and wait in this almost-time. It could be long weeks till everything changes; it could be mere days. But God is here, too.
And it is not only Easter morning which makes it so. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. All the ordinary days matter, too.
How I heard Palm Sunday:
When the hour came, Jesus took his place at table with the apostles.
Mama, I need Polar Bear. Read Polar Bear. Read. Please.
I tell you, Peter. Before the cock crows this day, you will deny three times that you know me.
Polar Bear, Polar Bear, what do you hear? I hear a lion roaring in my ear.
Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still not my will but yours be done.
Big Trucks and Diggers! I need Big Trucks and Diggers!
They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied to them, “You say that I am.”
The wheel loader scoops and lifts and loads – oops, no, don’t pull the pages too hard or the dump truck part will break.
But they continued their shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Can you use your quiet voice in church? Shhh…no. Quiet. We use quiet voices while we’re listening.
Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.
Mama, do they have donuts today? Should we go check to see if there are donuts?
Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.
Shhh. Use your QUIET VOICE IN CHURCH. If you cannot use your quiet voice, you are going to have to leave aga – ok, that’s it. You’re leaving. Here, take him.
And when he had said this, he breathed his last.
Mama, home. Let’s go home. I’m hungry. I’m tired. Home.
. . .
A mother’s distraction? Maybe.
But aren’t all our hearings of the Gospel interrupted?
We pick up the book after making the coffee and before loading the dishwasher. We squeeze in church between breakfast and a birthday party. We listen to a sermon while plotting our to-do list and planning our errands.
We are always humans trying to hear the divine, listening with half an ear amidst all the chatter and clutter. We are never gods ourselves, with undisturbed attention, uninterrupted time, undistracted minds. We are creatures of distraction, people of interruption.
But might this be precisely the point?
Incarnation was interruption: God breaking into our world, becoming human. Resurrection was a wrench-in-the-works of reality, too: death becoming life, transformed and brand-new.
The Gospel was always meant to interrupt us. To interrupt injustice with truth. To interrupt guilt with forgiveness. To interrupt violence with peace. To interrupt ambition with humility. To interrupt selfishness with love.
No wonder it still interrupts today. Even this holiest of weeks is still full of work deadlines and school drop-offs and vacuuming and vet visits.
And the little ones can’t sit silent for the sacred mystery of holy days. They still fidget and squirm, whine and yawn. (So do adults sometimes, if we’re honest.)
Proof of all the human he came to save.
. . .
In case you missed it, I’m now a contributor at CatholicMom.com. Click here to check out my first post on how to live Lent as a busy mom.
May you have a peaceful, prayerful Holy Week! (Amidst the chaos and craziness of daily life, of course.)
I glimpsed her at the back of a long line trailing down the aisle, shuffling forward in the slow side-to-side dance of people waiting their turn.
She wore a bright fuchsia trench coat, hair coiffed in a cute side sweep. Behind her bobbed the heads of two bright-eyed daughters, brunettes like their mother. In her arms she held another girl. The smallest, hair pinned back with a pink bow to match.
Did you see them come in? he whispered when he saw where I was staring. She was pushing that little one in a tiny wheelchair.
The family made their way to the front of the line. She swung the tiny girl with limp legs into the wooden chair and knelt down at her feet. Took a pitcher of water and began to pour it slowly over her daughter’s toes.
As she washed, she looked up into the girl’s face and smiled, her eyes bright. Then she dried each small foot with a fluffy white towel and gathered the child back into her arms, setting her gently on the floor. One by one her other daughters eagerly jumped into the chair. Each one received the same wide smile, the same loving attention.
While her sisters’ feet were being washed, the smallest girl began to crawl back down the aisle, dragging her legs behind her. An older woman in the front pew frowned. Without the wheelchair, she was just another antsy child.
But without a word, the mother turned and smiled, bent down to sweep the girl up into her arms and led the group back to their places in the last pew.
That’s what she does all day long, I realized, tears springing into the corners of my eyes.
She washes feet.