Time Out of Time, In Time

As a Unitarian Universalist, “Holy Week” doesn’t hold anywhere near the significance, meaning, or panic as it does for my Christian colleagues. In many of our congregations, a Seder may be held, but otherwise our only big event is an Easter service largely centered around the metaphor of resurrection and its placement during spring and fertility festivals. A few of our congregations are primarily Christian and do other services, but the majority are much more mixed, and thus much less focus is on the many stops along the way of Holy Week.

Normally – and even last year – Holy Week goes largely unnoticed. However, this year, I have watched from a distance the confluence of events. It began for me a few weeks ago when I preached at a Presbyterian church, using the text from John 12:1-8, where Mary washes Jesus’ feet with the expensive perfumes, presumably foreshadowing Jesus’ death. This text made me acutely aware of the ritual time of the season leading up to Easter, and that it’s carefully mapped out so that the entire story, including the Passion, is told in a particular pattern, in time that is both ritual time but aligned with ordinary/calendar time.

I then preached on Palm Sunday; while I didn’t preach anything about the Christian story (I spoke about grounding, using the spring equinox as my jumping-off point), I was aware too that the next night I would attend a Seder for the first night of Passover, knowing that it was a Passover meal that Christians call the “last supper”… and while Passover and Easter were originally separated for somewhat negative reasons, the consequence of ritual time lends itself to a deeper understanding of that part of the Easter story.

And now it’s the final weekend of Holy Week, this time out of time, but strangely in time. The commemoration of the events as told in the Gospels takes Christians out of time and into a long ritual time; from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, Christians essentially hold open sacred space. Yet the days described in the Gospels are the same length as our days, and thus it’s possible to mark the last 40 days of Jesus’ life in actual days, as opposed to a two-hour film.

I find myself in a space of curiosity; twice in my life I’ve held sacred space open for a long stretch of days when doing deep healing work, and it’s both amazing and difficult. It requires focus and intentional action. That Christians who are serious about this time hold this space open every year is remarkable; it inspires a sense of devotion to faith that I admire. And I think it’s something my tradition may be missing. For all its openness and expansiveness, I think we occasionally miss deepening in our eagerness to be spiritual squirrels. It makes me want to instill some sense of longer ritual time for deepening our faith practices. I don’t know what that looks like yet… I think some space was held open during the year I participated in a Wellspring group. But I think we have an opportunity to shape and develop our own “time out of time, in time” to commemorate, honor, and celebrate things that are important to Unitarian Universalists.

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