Children and the twist in the tale
The week leading up to Easter always feels to me like a time for quietness and deep reflection. Some chance of that in the school holidays! My husband and I both feel that we have been too busy this week, that ‘the world is too much with us’. And it is difficult to get to all the church services we’d like to attend. The great liturgical drama of Christ’s betrayal, trial and crucifixion is too much to expect a seven-year-old to sit through day after day.
I take refuge, therefore, in some of the sublime music written for Holy Week over the centuries: the Lamentations of Jeremiah for Maundy Thursday by Orlando de Lassus; the searing intensity of Dvorak’s Stabat Mater, which I have come to appreciate through rehearsing it for a concert; the unsettling, shifting harmonies of Gesualdo’s Responsories for the Office of Tenebrae for Holy Saturday. A trip to the doctor becomes an opportunity to immerse myself in music, in an emotional response to the Christian drama.
The children, too, want to prepare in their own way. ‘Why haven’t we done any Easter decorations yet?’ asked one of the boys yesterday. While we don’t decorate the house on the scale of Christmas, I always try to ensure that there are one or two touches such as fresh flowers for Easter Day, and some baskets of decorative eggs around the place. So I thought, and tried to explain that Holy Week begins with Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Passion Sunday, but then rapidly descends into growing dread and foreboding, the horror of his betrayal by a friend, his trial and crucifixion. I tried to imagine with my children how the disciples must have felt on Holy Saturday. They had abandoned homes, livelihoods, family to follow the Christ, and now he was dead. Their dreams of the future had crumbled to ashes. They must have been dreadfully afraid, too: who would be next for arrest and execution? No wonder we don’t much feel like decorating the house for a party.
Except that all of a sudden, we do. Holy Week culminates not in death, but in what J.R.R. Tolkien termed a ‘eucatastrophe‘: the opposite of a catastrophe, a sudden and extraordinary snatching of victory from the jaws of despair; a twist in the tale which brings a piercing joy so intense that it makes one weep. On a mundane note, that means that there will be a lot of last minute decorating and egg-finding for us to do after Saturday night’s Easter Vigil or on the morning of Easter Day, before my little bunnies come downstairs.
The theme of eucatastrophe has been much in my mind this Holy Week. Not all of our friends have the luxury of being distracted from their reflections by noisy children bouncing around the house. One family we know have a child who is very sick indeed at the moment, in intensive care in a hospital far from home. We pray that she and her family will experience their own twist in the tale soon, their own eucatastrophe for Easter.