No, I’m not talking about the beginning of the baseball season, nor of Duke’s convincing victory over WVU (sorry, Mountaineer friends). I’m talking about navigating last week’s complications without having run smack into any shoals. Oh, plus, there’s that whole Jesus thing.
My lectures ended a week ago last Friday, which might have triggered my annual end-of-year physical collapse, except that Pippa was here and I fought on to do as much with her as her sleep schedule, the weather, her interests, and the days allotted us permitted. Then I put her on her plane Thursday, and that might have triggered my annual end-of-year let-down plus missing-Pippa let-down, but it’s Holy Week and I had services in which to participate and a sermon to write. Then too, Friday was the anniversary of my father’s death, so that might have triggered my annual let-down, compounded with missing Pippa and missing my Dad, but I still had the sermon to write and services today. So I spent yesterday working on the sermon, chanted the Exsultet at this morning’s Easter Vigil (happy Baptism, Ruth! Happy baptismal anniversary, Si!), preached at the ten-thirty main Easter service (sermon included in the extended portion of the post), had a sip of celebratory champagne, and walked the two miles home.
So guess what it’s time for now.
I’ll finish eating (ferociously hungry) and have a wee lie-down. The Festal Evensong starts at 6:30, and I may take a cab tonight, or perhaps just give it a miss altogether. For now, though, I wish you all a happy Easter, and we’ll see how I feel in a few hours.
Isa 65:17-25/Acts 10:34-43/Luke 24:1-12
Easter Day, 4 April 2010
“He is not here, but has risen”
In the name of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — Amen.
Sometime last week — it was Maundy Thursday — some mischievous scamp posted on the internet the news that the Scottish Episcopal Church would hereafter observe Easter Day according to a newer, supposedly more accurate calculation. As a result, the report said, Scottish Episcopalians and their English neighbours would observe the church’s holiest feast of unity on separate Sundays in alternate years.
Now, let us set aside any expostulations of traditionalist indignation or ecumenical horror; and let us remember that, after all, Maundy Thursday this year fell on 1 April; and above all, let us remember to regard our very reverend clergy leaders with proper respect, even if they occasionally display a Puckish streak. If you find the idea of arbitrarily changing the date of Easter an offensive prospect, let us (in short) remember that this was but an ingenious April Fool’s joke, and this weak and idle theme no more yielding but a dream — and then, perhaps we can take a moment to consider more seriously certain benefits that might avail to us if we did reconsider the date of Easter.
After all, we have been looking forward to Easter for a long time. Ash Wednesday reminded us of our mortality more than a month ago, so that those among us who have pledged to fast from chocolate, or meat, or coffee, or drink, they are probably anticipating a right good party after this morning’s Mass. The choir has been practising diligently their Easter repertoire for this morning and evening. Everyone in Scotland has been waiting to be shut of winter this year, maybe hoping that the church’s feast of new and abundant life would bring with it a wee bit of warmth and sunshine. But whatever the reason we may have for anticipating Easter, we have known all along that it would arrive this morning, the 4th of April. We don’t even need to mark the date in most calendars; calendars and date books arrive with the date of Easter printed in them already. And that alone sets us off wrongfooted to hear the angels’ message.
Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women who went to the tomb this morning did not, after all, expect to receive the news of resurrection; the whole point of their trip to the tomb was to anoint the dead body of their beloved teacher. They expected to find a corpse. Their expectation was so strong that not until two sparkling strangers appeared unto them and reminded them what Jesus had repeatedly told them — like a good teacher, Jesus had patiently explained, “after three days…” — only after the angels reminded them did the women remember Jesus’ words. And the menfolk didn’t believe even after the women brought them the Easter news and reminded them; brothers and sisters, these disciples did not have Easter on their printed calendars!
And although the gospels sometimes depict the disciples as rather slow on the uptake we should be fair to them: God always emphasises in all dealings with us that we should be ready for surprises. Isaiah prophesied, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Or think of God’s answer to Job, in which God demanded of Job just how much he knew about God’s mind and God’s purposes; Abram, called out of Ur of the Chaldees for no clear reason; Sarah, promised a son she was sure she would not bear; Moses, astonished by the burning bush. Or think of Jesus, who taught that it’s not our business to determine for God which people are the wheat and which are the weeds, which people are good fish and which are rotten fish. The patriarchs, the kings, the prophets, the evangelists, the apostles, all seem to have been surprised by God’s ways at the turning points in their stories; how much more should we think carefully before we presume to try to nail down the resurrection onto a calendar and prepare for it as a presupposed fact of life.
Contrariwise, suppose for a minute that we might know that Easter came annually, but could never be sure exactly when it would come. Pretend that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope and at least one of the Orthodox Patriarchs would agree on a particular day — and the night before, word would go out to all the faithful: Tomorrow is Easter, tomorrow is resurrection! If things worked that way, we’d have only one night to make everything ready, to cancel our plans for the morrow, to gather at daybreak to light the Easter fire and sing praises to the Author of our salvation. We would on one hand have to make last-minute arrangements, and on the other hand we would also have to live in a heightened state of daily readiness — keeping the church spruced up year ’round, keeping a choral repertoire constantly-rehearsed, so that we might be found ready on the day of his rising, whenever it might occur.
Of course, such an idea is impractical. When would schools schedule their spring holidays? What would the bank holidays be? What if Easter conflicted with a football game? How will we know when to buy marshmallow Peeps and chocolate rabbits? What if Easter happened when we had other Very Important Things to do? Alas, it makes for a great inconvenience — when you can’t even count on dead people to stay dead.
But Easter confronts us with this very discomfiting challenge: are we more wedded to our comfortably predictable lives, where we know that dead people really stay that way, or dare we enlist for a world in which, at any given moment, stones roll away, and dazzling angels bring confusing messages, and death itself is swallowed up in glorious victory? Will we entrust our well-being to a world of war’s carnage, of futile labour, accursed calamity — or will we step out in faith to inhabit a new heavens and a new earth, where wolf and lamb lie down together, where they shall not hurt or destroy on all God’s holy mountain?
The close-clinging power of death drags us down into the world of conformity; death promises the illusory consolation of predictability and control. Death, practicality, certainties — they suck at our soles, they weigh us down into a lukewarm eternity with guaranteed absolutely no surprises. But we have been instructed by Easter, we have been claimed by Easter. We belong to the Body of Christ; and as the Body of Christ, whatever powers death devises to drag us under, we must rise!
Rise, beloved friends of St Mary’s!
Rise, West End and East! Rise, Bearsden, Milngavie, Govan, Maryhill! Rise, Glasgow!
Rise, Highlands and Lowlands! Rise, Scotland!
Rise, Belfast and Dublin, Cardiff and Canterbury!
Rise, all the whole, holy Body of Christ, from Sweden to Sri Lanka to Zimbabwe, from Korea to Canada, Nigeria, Uganda, Virgin Islands, rise!
Rise, for here gathered this morning we stand humbled, forgiven, victorious, surprised, Eastering in the risen Christ; and as the Body of Christ, we are called this morning, every morning, to reach for the light, to join with one another in harmony, to sing praise and laugh and always, unstoppably, to rise.
So may our Easter refrain resound: “Do not seek the people of St Mary’s among the dead; we are not dead, but we have risen!” Alleluia!