One church musician cancels her piano lessons during Holy Week. Another decides not to travel to visit family during spring break because Holy Week is coming up too soon. The looks and brief conversations between church musicians during this time admit an exhaustion that accompanies this premier week of the Church Year.
It is ironic that busy times of the Church Year—times that are designed to help us focus more on the life and saving work of Christ—are often themselves the cause of distraction. I know that many times I have felt that I simply have too much work and cannot possibly take time to contemplate Christ and His work. In the midst of all the activity, how can we as church musicians keep our focus on Christ during Holy Week?
Take time to study the words of the hymns for the week.
I fully admit to getting distracted during a normal Sunday service, especially when playing the organ. I can barely pay attention to the readings for the day, and the words of the hymns escape me because I’m too busy thinking about the registration change for the next stanza. This distraction only multiplies with the many services of Holy Week that differ from our normal Divine Service autopilot.
One way to combat this sort of distraction is to study and meditate on the words of the hymns before the services. This can be incorporated into, or even take the place of, daily devotions. As you practice the music for the services, take some time to read the words and contemplate their meaning. Then, while your mind may be fully occupied during the service, you already have had the chance to immerse yourself in the words being sung.
Get rid of other distractions.
The imminence of Holy Week and its extra work does not eliminate the rest of the tasks we must accomplish in our daily lives. Dinner must be cooked, laundry must be washed, houses must be cleaned, children must be cared for, students must be taught. Cars may break down, families may get sick, you may get sick. In other words, the extra work that accompanies Holy Week is not the only thing that distracts us.
As much as possible, attempt to limit other work around this time. This may be as simple (or as complicated) as putting up with a dirty house, mediocre dinners, and re-worn clothes for a week or two. This may entail canceling lessons or other commitments just for the week. Or perhaps you can plan ahead for Holy Week and spend a weekend getting chores done beforehand. All this is easier said than done, but anticipating the extra workload and acting on it sooner rather than later is an effective way to make your week less stressful.
Change thoughts and language about Holy Week.
I know I like to complain about the work of Holy Week. I will lie on my couch, heave a dramatic sigh, and tell whomever may be listening that I can’t wait for Easter to come. I’ll give them my schedule in the minutiae for the week and pretend to myself that they are impressed with my workload and never have had it worse than me. This scenario, of course, puts all the focus on me instead of Christ.
I know many wonderful, humble church musicians who don’t complain about their work, but perhaps even changing the thought and language of a “busy” Holy Week to something more positive would help take our minds off of the work and focus them more on Christ. We can certainly acknowledge our busyness during this time, but even the most well-meaning person will sometimes find that their busyness becomes the focus. By changing the way we think and speak about Holy Week, we can perhaps take a step in the direction of replacing the focus on ourselves and our work with a focus on Christ.
Take comfort in the reason for Holy Week.
This list focuses on what we can do to better focus on Christ this week. We know, though, that no amount of nice suggestions will solve this problem. While we might work toward a solution, we never will be perfect. Holy Week still will see us tired and stressed. I often grow resentful that I cannot even take time to “get in the spirit of the season” and instead have to rush through it all with extra services, rehearsals, and practices. “The horror,” I think to myself, “that I can’t even force myself to be sad during this time because there is too much going on!”
Although it is good to contemplate ways in which we as church musicians can focus more on Christ and less on our extra workload, it also is comforting to remember that, despite our feelings on the subject and whether we are in the Lenten or Easter “spirit,” Christ has died and risen again. We may be distracted, stressed, tired, grumpy, but that does not alter the fact that Christ has saved us.
This week, let us not look to our feelings, our tiredness, our ability or inability to focus on Christ as the test of a successful Holy Week. Rather, let us rely on the first Holy Week and Christ’s saving work thousands of years ago.
Read more of Marie Greenway’s advice for church musicians.