Here is a guest post for Easter weekend, from Simon C.:

Just before Christmas I was able to spend the day with my older brother. We don’t see each other that often; even more rarely do we spend any proper time together, just the two of us. I thought I might as well take the opportunity over lunch to reveal for the first time to a family member that I had quit attending church during the pandemic. He had stopped going to church more than 25 years ago, drifting away with a whimper rather than exiting with a bang. We had such a rewarding conversation. It was literally the first time in all these years I have had a conversation with him about the church so it was enlightening to finally find out his perspective. My brother is an artist, fascinated among other things by religious themes. One of his gripes was the banality, the ordinariness of Mormon worship (my words, but it sums up his feelings). I guess he is a ‘high church’ person. He wanted the high drama of ritual, as opposed to sitting in a sports hall on folding chairs. I agreed. It’s funny what brings people together.

As we are now into Holy Week it got me thinking about ‘Holy Envy’. I first heard that phrase in the church film about the temple, Between Heaven and Earth (remember that?!), where the Lutheran theologian Krister Stendahl talked of his “holy envy” for the Mormon temple. Like my brother, I am also fascinated by ritual. I can’t say I yearn for it, but I certainly want to experience it from time-to-time. I have always loved the concept of the temple, the closest thing we get to ‘high church’ in Mormonism. I always enjoyed attending and tried ever so hard to experience the ritual and derive meaning. But I also completely get why it’s a turn off for so many. Despite the fact that our version of ‘temple’ has much more modern roots and influences, the temple as a religious and cultural institution is ancient, and that is what really appealed to me. The feeling that I was participating in something that people in one form or another had been doing for thousands of years, whether the Greeks or the Romans or the Egyptians or the Jews. The Endowment, of course, is completely baffling. But I have always felt personally that if it is to make any sense whatsoever it needs to be as ritual that is actively experienced. In its original form it was essentially participatory theatre. I always liked Nibley’s phrase of “temple drama”. For me then it’s a shame that there seems to be a one-way ticket towards more and more of the drama being passively experienced though watching a film. Put on your slippers, get comfy, dim the lights, take a nap—the matinee is about to start. But then this is the McEndowment, I suppose, a neatly packaged standardised product and coming to a temple screening near you! (Just as soon as the temple is built, of course.) Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the Freemasons have moved to watching (almost) everything in a movie. It kind of misses the point. Oh well…

So I have Holy Envy for the ritual found in other faith traditions. But there’s more. I have so much Holy Envy for the liturgical year and its calendar, for the high days and holy days and feast days. As societies we evolved in tune with the rhythm of the solar year, the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon. For the believing, the liturgical year is another layer to help formalise belief and ritual, to tie it to the rhythm of the seasons and the passing of time, to help focus hearts and minds. Ritual as we know is a powerful tool to make the profane, even mundane, sacred. It’s also very good at producing social bonding and cohesion. The liturgical year turns profane time into sacred time.

For me there is also something very wonderful in the rhythm of ritual. In our temples, it’s the daily rhythm of the ordinances. In the ancient temple, it’s the daily rhythm of the sacrifices, and the idea that what happened in the Jerusalem temple mirrored what happened in the heavenly temple and helped keep the cosmos in order. When I have visited Jerusalem I have felt it in the daily rhythm of those walking the Via Dolorosa and the daily rhythm of worship in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It’s in the rhythm of the muezzin’s call, or the celebration of Shabbat each week at the Western Wall. Sacred space and sacred time.

But beyond Christmas and Easter, Mormonism doesn’t have much of that rhythm of the sacred calendar—well maybe General Conference. But that’s a stretch. In Mormonism, more often than not, you need to make your own fun. So I have tried in recent years, in my own small way, to bring a bit of ritual to Holy Week. In the past I have gone to a Church of England service on Good Friday, feeling that I needed to do something to mark that important day. Now I try and pay attention to the rhythm of Holy Week and the events recorded in the Gospels. I pay attention to the full moon which marks the beginning of Passover—“Why is this night different from all other nights?” I try to mentally and (hopefully) spiritually go on a journey through the events of Good Friday. I try to imagine the uncertainty and maybe even despair of the liminal space of Easter Saturday. I try to feel the hope and joy of Easter Sunday and the symbolic power of the empty tomb. I light an awful lot of candles (even more so than usual) and have my traditional list of films I watch at certain points (The Passion of the Christ and Ben-Hur are always on the bill. Maybe Quo Vadis if I can tolerate Robert Taylor’s acting…). I just try and do something to make this coming weekend sacred time.

So what do you do to mark Easter? And what do you have Holy Envy for from other faith traditions?

And above all, wishing the Wheat & Tares community a peaceful and joyful Easter, however you choose to spend it!

The featured image is used under under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.