Easter Eggs

In my previous parish, which didn’t ‘do’ the Easter vigil,  I found myself slightly disturbed by the number of ‘Happy Eater’ and ‘Alleluia’ messages in my twitter feed from those returning from evening services on Holy Saturday, confident that the resurrection had already happened.  I kept wanting to reply ‘Spoiler-alert – I haven’t had my resurrection yet!’ It made me think about the timing of our Alleluias – if you were here yesterday for the 8.30pm service, was the resurrection then?  Or is it now, at the 10am service?  What about those churches that have their Eucharist at dawn? Are they the ones who are really getting it right? Is their resurrection the real one?

Let’s explore this idea a bit more, using the time-honoured medium of chocolate eggs.

(I would hold up a whole egg, at this point).

Jesus’ tomb was a little like this egg – inside it’s dark and cramped, but when the resurrection happened, and Jesus burst out of the tomb, Good Friday is smashed once and for all, and new life is set free. (At this point I dramatically smash the egg into a bowl or basket.)  There is no going back. This egg is smashed. This resurrection has undoubtedly happened.broken chocolate egg

But the trouble was, that nobody witnessed it!  The solders (in that account, anyway) passed out and didn’t see Jesus emerge, and the next thing we know, it’s the women arriving at the tomb still expecting to find a dead body, and instead finding it empty.  The actual moment of the resurrection happened in private. All that resurrection joy and nobody to share it.

On Easter Sunday we focus on Mary’s story – we just heard it as our gospel reading.  There in the garden, the resurrection had already happened, but she was trapped in her own Good Friday – her grief and sadness kept her in the dark (hold up another, whole egg, at this point).

And we can tell the exact moment when the resurrection happened for her – it’s when Jesus calls her name. Suddenly grief is turned to joy.  Mary’s Good Friday is smashed once and for all, the new life is set free in her (smash the second egg and handing it round).

That’s all very well for Mary but what about everyone else?  At this point she’s still the only real witness. What about all the others?  If you come back to church over the next few weeks you’ll hear more stories of how the resurrection became real to all of Jesus’ friends. But here’s a sneak preview.

– Thomas = doubt to faith when he sees Jesus’ wounds.
– Disciples = fear to peace of mind/joy when Jesus says ‘Peace be with you’
– Emmaus Road = confusion to recognition when Jesus breaks the bread
– Peter = guilt to new purpose when Jesus gives him the chance to say ‘I love you’ three times to make up for his threefold denial.
(For each one you can hold up and break a new egg)

You can also ask people to think in their own minds about what other sorts of things keep us trapped in our own Good Friday’s, and let that lead into prayer that all may experience the resurrection in a way that’s personal to them, but absolutely connected with Jesus’ defeat of sin and death.


  • For very small children, it can be good to act this process out – making ourselves small and sad, scrunched up with our arms wrapped round us, and then jumping up for joy.

I also wrote a hymn that goes well with the resurrection stories. Here it is.

Eastertide hymn

For some reason I was thinking today about Epiphany, and how wonderfully the hymn ‘Songs of thankfulness and praise’ captures the Epiphany stories that we enjoy in the lectionary in the weeks after Christmas.  It then occurred to me that it might be fun to write an Eastertide equivalent, so I’ve used the same tune (I know there’s more than one tune used for the Epiphany hymn, so I guess that means that whatever tune you’d use for that one, you could also use for this one!).  I only wrote this just now, and it’s in draft form, so any comments or suggestions for improvement are very welcome, as always!

Life comes to an upper room,
breaking through the fear and gloom;
walls and door-locks are no bar:
Jesus meets us where we are.
Life dispels the doubt of grief
bringing hope and new belief;
touching scars – these signs of pain
bring us back to life again.

Life comes to a broken heart,
bowed by sorrow, torn apart;
in the darkness of our tears
Jesus speaks to calm our fears.
On our journey life comes home,
in this fellowship made known;
with Christ’s body we are fed:
life revealed in broken bread.

Life comes to a sunlit shore,
sharing food with friends once more;
Fresh new callings banish guilt,
hope and faith and love rebuilt.
Jesus’ vict’ry over death
brings new life with every breath,
to the world it’s freely giv’n,
reconciling earth with heav’n.

Easter Sunday morning thoughts

My churches aren’t in the habit of having Easter vigil services, so the 8am on Easter morning is the first time in the Benefice that we light a paschal candle and roll away the stone from the Easter garden’s tomb.

On Easter Eve this year I was at home, and browsing twitter – I wasn’t sure how to feel about the numerous tweets from people returning from evening services proclaiming ‘Christ is risen!’ and ‘Alleluia’ – it almost felt like ‘spoilers’ for the liturgy in which I’d be taking part in the morning.

I told the 8am congregation this – we’d said the Easter Anthems, we’d lit our paschal candle, and in the sermon I reflected that as a vicar I ‘do’ Easter many times on Easter day.  No one service can be argued to be the moment of resurrection – the 8am doesn’t have priority as the real Easter because it’s earlier, and nor does the 10.30am because there are more people there.

In the end I found the fact of multiple Easters more helpful and more theologically profound than confusing, because it’s a model that’s truer to the Biblical accounts that we read in the gospels.  On the very first Easter, there must have been a ‘real’ moment of resurrection – the moment when Jesus stopped being dead and started being alive again.  But nobody witnessed it.  I love the fact that in a church with no Easter vigil, we sleep through the resurrection, just as the first disciples did, and then each of us comes, one by one or two by two, or in larger groups, and has our own ‘moment’ of realisation of the new life of Christ.

For Mary in John 20, the moment of resurrection is not when Jesus comes to life, it’s when he cuts through her grief and speaks her name. For the disciples in the upper room, it’s not when Jesus comes to life, it’s when he walks through the locked door of their fear and breathes his peace on them. For Thomas, it’s a week later, when Jesus touches away his doubt and by his wounds he gains his faith.  For the disciples at Emmaus it’s the moment when Jesus breaks the bread, and for Peter it’s the offer (in John 21) of a threefold commitment to balance his threefold denial.

None of these resurrection stories take place at the very moment of the resurrection, they are all afterwards, by varying degrees – perhaps only by minutes in Mary’s case, but for the others it’s hours, maybe days before the resurrection becomes real for them.

And this is still happening now.  The resurrection was a historical moment, but the very fact that it went unwitnessed at the very moment it took place means that each encounter with the risen Christ today is just as potent as the encounters that the disciples experienced. We did not miss out for the fact that we are living almost 2000 years after the event, for it is fresh every Easter, every Sunday, potentially every moment of every day. For every moment could be the moment when we will find that Christ has spoken into our grief, or walked through the locked door of our fear, or touched our doubt into faith…..

So, happy Easter!  Not just today, but tomorrow, and the next day – whenever something enables you to grasp the new life that God offers us in the risen Christ.


Advent 4: duty and joy

Some thoughts on Advent 4 and the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1.39-45)

God asks a great deal of Mary.

He asks her to turn her life upside down for him. And he had presumably selected her because she had the faith to be obedient even to this most demanding of vocations. Either that, or he had already tried many, many other young women and had been turned down because he asked too much…

Mary has obedience in abundance. Her question is not ‘why me?’ but ‘how me?’ ‘How can such a thing be possible?’ And when the angel reassures her that with God, indeed all things are possible, she readily assents. God will make it happen. And she is his vessel, his means to come into the world.  An honour, a privilege.

But our gospel reading today picks up where the obedience leaves off, and tells us what happens next.  Mary visits her cousin, Elizabeth – the angel had already told her that Elizabeth, too, was pregnant, against all the odds, and unsurprisingly, Mary seeks her out – the older, wiser, woman in the family, someone she can trust to understand what has happened, and to confide in.  After all, it’s not as if she can talk to just anyone about this pregnancy.

But Mary’s visit to Elizabeth gives her much more than that. In fact, it gives both women much more. The moment when they greet each other – and the babies that they are carrying inside them also greet each other – that is a moment of heaven touching earth.  That is the moment for Mary when duty turns to joy. That is the moment when Mary realises that God has not just asked a great thing of her, he has also given her a great thing.

Through the gift of solidarity with her cousin, through the sharing of a common vocation, a common journey, God has given Mary and Elizabeth real, profound joy, as well as responsibility.

God asks a great deal of us. But he also gives us a great deal.

Our burdens are ours, but none of us is entirely alone in bearing them, even when it seems as though we are. One of the greatest gifts that God gives to us is each other. And it is so often the case that we can only truly find joy, or at least, fulfillment, in our responsibilities when we share those burdens that weigh heavily on us.

‘Take my yoke upon you,’ offers Christ, ‘for my yoke is easy and my burden is light’.  ‘And he shareth in our gladdness, and he feeleth for out sadness’ we are reassured in the enduringly popular Christmas carol, and again, ‘Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay close by me for ever’.

The incarnation is the ultimate coming-alongside of God with his people. What we see here today in Mary and Elizabeth’s joyful meeting is a microcosm of what happens with the coming of Jesus into the world.  Our own solidarity with one another, our own sharing of burdens, and sharing of journeys, our own meeting with one another for worship, is likewise a microcosm of the incarnation.  In this way, our relationship with God does not have to be only about obedience, but can turn to joy.

Mary’s life was turned upside down, because she said yes to God. From the start she accepted that her life would never be the same again. But it was not until she came to Elizabeth that she truly embraced and enjoyed what God had given her – so much so that right after our reading finishes, she bursts into the song that we know as the Magnificat, the ultimate celebration of God’s promise to turn everything upside down and then make us question whether in fact things were really the right way up in the first place.

May the incarnation of Jesus be real this Christmas, in our lives.  May we, in turn, by our solidarity, our common journeys, our care for one another bring the reality of Christ’s presence to those we meet, turning duty into joy, turning ordinary into extraordinary, and turning back the right way up all those things that have been too long topsy turvey in our lives and in the life of the world.