semaine sainte

If you haven’t worked in a church before, Holy Week is akin to finals week in college. There are services almost every day the week spanning from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, and often multiple services a day. So many administrative and logistical elements need to be sorted out for each of these services– finding volunteers to fill the various roles in the service, organizing joint services with other churches, and of course– the immense amount of service bulletins that need to be created, formatted, and printed en masse.

I find myself writing this blog post in a brief moment of calm in the middle of Holy Week at Emmanuel. Although, I’m not sure if ‘calm’ is necessarily the right word. Yesterday, in the middle of printing our Good Friday bulletins, our industrial office printer decided that the ‘waste tray’ must be removed and replaced that very second before any further printing could occur. In my almost two months here, I’ve changed the toners and the drums in the printer many times, but had no idea a waste tray existed or needed to be replaced, since our replacement cartridges arrive automatically in the mail when needed– except for this very crucial moment in time, of course.

The Rector immediately called Canon on my behalf (since my French is simply nowhere near good enough to ask for a new waste tray to be sent immediately, and convey the urgency of the situation) and a waste tray was dispatched in the mail. However, whether or not the waste tray will show up in time to print the remaining two services worth of bulletins is unclear. So, today is a bit of a waiting game, as we wait to see whether we will need to go to the print shop tomorrow afternoon.

This, albeit very annoying, situation has actually left me with some unusual ‘free’ time in the midst of such a busy week. Not ‘free’ perhaps, but less overwhelmed with tasks at the current moment. It is with this rare moment that I am now reflecting on Holy Week.

Last night, Emmanuel did a joint service at the English- speaking Anglican church in Geneva, Holy Trinity. This was a Tenebrae service, which dates from the medieval era. ‘Tenebrae’ in Latin means ‘darkness’ or ‘shadows’, and the service consists of readings from the Passion, music, and the gradual extinguishing of candles. I had never participated in such a service, and found the entire experience very moving. From a work standpoint, I got to contribute substantially to the production of the service, producing and printing the service bulletin, doing two of the readings, and acting as the candle extinguisher after each reading or music piece. The service went very well, and gave me a sense of purpose and fulfillment in my contribution.

More importantly, however, was the impact the service had on me in forcing me to slow down a bit. Watching as the 12 candles were extinguished one by one was a very striking image in the dimly lit church. Normally, I would be singing in the choir during any given church service, but the Holy Trinity choir was singing, so I got the unusual chance to be a true outside observer to the music. They sang some beautifully haunting pieces that really captured the essence of Jesus making his way to his death on Good Friday. I love to sing and perform, so oftentimes, when I find myself in the role of ‘audience member’ at something I would want to be performing in, I feel slightly uncomfortable in the unfamiliar role, and spend most of my mental energy thinking about how I wish I was participating in whatever I am watching or listening to.

Surprisingly, to me, that wasn’t the case this time. Maybe because it’s been such a busy week with so much more to come, but I reveled in sitting down and just listening to the music. Slowing down, being present, and stepping away just a bit from the hectic planning and execution of Holy Week allowed me to remember what Holy Week is really about.

I’ll write a longer update about life in general in Geneva once I’m done with Holy Week (and my trip to Barcelona following it!) but here’s a quick one: I’ve been in my apartment for a month now and am feeling settled, I’m feeling so welcomed and cared for by the community at Emmanuel, I’m singing in the Emmanuel choir as well as the Geneva Amateur Operatic Society chorus, and practicing my French! I’m making friends, visiting museums, exploring Geneva, and have exciting travel plans in the works.

Life is good, and I feel so deeply blessed to be here.

7 I have set the Lord always before me;  he is at my right hand; I shall not fall. 

8 Wherefore my heart is glad and my spirit rejoices; my flesh also shall rest secure. 

9 For you will not abandon my soul to Death, nor suffer your faithful one to see the Pit. 

10 You will show me the path of life; in your presence is the fullness of joy and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore. — Psalm 16: 7-10

One response to “semaine sainte”

  1. Miranda, Your recent post inspired me to attend a few more Holy Week services at St Luke’s. All good… thanks!

    I wanted to suggest another off the beaten track site to see while you’re in Europe. I do hope you’ll get to Paris, and if you do, think about visiting the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal at 140 Rue de Bac, a religious site in the Catholic faith, on a quiet street in Paris. There are so many churches in Paris, so it’s hard to pick. This one is very low key and remembered as a Marian apparition site. You could stop in on your way to the wonderful department store Bon Marche, which is just a few blocks away and a fun Paris shopping experience. Be well, as you continue your adventure.

    Best, Marjorie Neville

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