I was speaking to a musician during the week who worships and plays the organ at a local Roman Catholic church. He kindly offered to play at St Francis if we ever needed an organist on days such as Corpus Christi and Ascension Day. Evidently, English Roman Catholic priests are encouraged to hold their feast days on the nearest Sunday nowadays as nobody can be arsed to turn up for church more than once a week (and for many Roman Catholics that once is on Saturday evening so that they have the whole of Sunday to go shopping or to the football, that sort of stuff). Of course, that's the direction we're going in in the Church of England as well. Twenty years ago every Holy Week service would be packed with most of the Sunday congregation turning up on, at least, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Nowadays, if a fifth of our worshippers turn up on a day other than Sunday, we regard it as a good turnout.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all for the emergent church principle of providing worship opportunities for people at times and in places that fit in with their working lives, family commitments and the like. But I believe such an attitude can go hand in hand with a proper respect for the liturgical calendar. If people can arrange their lives around the ancient patterns of worship in the church, they should. If they are unable to because of the demands of our capitalistic, secularist culture then the church should arrange services to fit in with them. What I don't think the Church should do is fit in with the social activities of contemporary life. Attending church on Sunday and on major festival days should be the number one social commitment in the lives of Christians, not somewhere near the bottom of a long list beneath such activities as football practice, shopping and having a lie in. Mission to non-Christians is a different thing. In mission we should go out of our way. But signed up members of the faith should put the commitments of their faith before all other social commitments most of the time.
As this is probably my last Easter as a priest and as there's not much anyone can now do to me if I upset them, I have decided to do Holy Week this year as I think it should be done and damn tradition. I started today by completely ditching the Passion bit of Palm Sunday and going back to the Book of Common Prayer's template of today concentrating on Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. I remember, when I was a kid, that Palm Sunday was a joyous day with lots of "Hosannas!" I also remember how intense the betrayal of Christ a few days later felt when shown up against the jubilation of Palm Sunday. The Catholic insistence on getting the entrance to Jerusalem over and done with before the service proper so that most of the time can be spent on the trial and crucifixion of Christ completely buggers up this stark contrast between joy and sorrow as you leave church on Palm Sunday feeling just sadness and guilt.
So there was no Passion Gospel at St. Francis this morning (if they want passion they shall have to turn out on Friday). We started off with the blessing of the palms and procession into the church. But we had no gospel at the palm blessing, in stead we had the Palm gospel at the usual gospel spot in the communion service. I preached the sermon that I posted here yesterday, said Palm Sunday prayers and used the Ambrosian Palm Sunday eucharistic preface that is based on Christ's entry into Jerusalem. It all went very well and the handful of people I'm still being civil to really appreciated it.
To top it all, and in an attempt to really upset the old fogeys in the congregation, I finished the service by getting the children to lead the congregation in singing the following:
I love the way it throws everything in together, linking Palm Sunday with easter morning. You've all, no doubt, heard of fusion cookery. Well, I'm into fusion liturgy.