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.

Note:

  • 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.

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.

 

Love Life Live Lent – day five – Plant some seeds

Oddly, I’m going to be doing this action on Easter Sunday.  Why? Because as part of our Family Communion service in Offord, we’re going to plant some autumn-flowering crocuses in the old font that has been sitting, unloved, in the churchyard for as long as anyone can remember.

At the moment the old font is full of stones and scrubby dirt, but by Easter Day it will be refilled with fresh, dark, fertile soil, and we shall all plant a bulb in it – come Autumn, our Easter planting will remind us that although the days are drawing in, the light of Christ never goes out.

We’re planting the bulbs in the old font partly because it’s there – we wanted to brighten up that part of the churchyard (it’s beside the path from the carpark to the church, so lots of people walk past it). But it’s also because at Easter we renew our baptism promises, reaffirming our belief that life is stronger than death, that love is stronger than hatred, and that light is stronger than darkness.

We’ll be renewing our actual baptism promises inside, around the new font, but it feels right that we also visit and bring new life to the old font, too – and to enable it to be a witness to the light and life and love of God not just to those inside church, but to everyone who passes by.

A little thought for Easter 2

When the risen Jesus visits his disciples his visit is characterised by several key elements of his overall ministry:

First, he brings peace – although they are startled and afraid at first, he brings his friends a peace of heart that they have not experienced for many days, and which will stay with them for ever. 

Second, he shares food with them – hospitality and sharing are central to the gospel, from the feeding of the five thousand to the Last Supper, and when we meet in Jesus’ name for Holy Communion we are continuing this tradition of gospel hospitality. Is there hospitality in our worship, in our life as a church?

Third, he brings joy – being in the presence of Christ should bring us joy, even amid the reality of whatever complex troubles of anxieties we have brought with us. Is there joy in our faith? In our life as a community of faith?  Are we really able to share one other’s joy?

Fourth, he brings the evidence of his own suffering, the marks on his hands, feet and side, showing that he truly has walked the path of life as we do, and that there is no place so dark or so painful that we have to go there alone; he will always go with us.  Are we willing to weep with those who weep, as well as to laugh with those who laugh? Are we willing to be vulnerable, to admit our own woundedness?

May we, as a church, as Christ’s body on earth, seek to live out these gospel values in all our activities. 

Sermon for Easter 1 (John 20.19-end)

I posted a snippet from this last week. Here’s the whole thing. Now I’ve actually written it....

St John reports that at Jesus’ mockery-of-a-trial, Pilate asked at one point, “What is truth?”  That enigmatic question finds an unexpected echo in today’s gospel, in Thomas’ own need to know what truth really is.  He is not just asking his friends whether what they have told him is literally true, that Jesus is actually live. He’s asking for an experience of the reality of that fact.

Thomas is remembered for his doubt. But should we not rather remember him for his extraordinary desire to experience the fullness of the resurrection for himself?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed, certainly, but blessed also are they who undertake a journey of discovery in doubt, in order that they might experience more fully the truth they seek.  I admit it, I admire Thomas, and I am glad that the gospel records the fact that Jesus granted him his very own resurrection moment.

And in truth, there were many people to whom Jesus granted such a moment.  Yes, the resurrection was a one-off historical event which occurred at some point shortly before dawn on the first day of the week, as we know from the accounts of scripture. That’s a fact that we may either accept or choose not to accept. But the truth of the resurrection is that it was not one moment but many moments. Nobody witnessed the ‘real’ resurrection, but every one of Jesus’ disciples had their own moment where it became real for them.  Mary in the garden, the disciples (minus Thomas) in the room, Thomas himself a week later, the two friends of Jesus on the road to Emmaus, and most poignantly of all, Peter on the beach in John 21, finally being released from the guilt of his betrayal and given his commission.

Yes, in factual terms the resurrection was a one-off event, but in spiritual terms it took time – time for Jesus’ friends to see it, to understand it, to believe it. And in fact, I would go as far as to say that in spiritual terms, the resurrection is still happening. Because it happens every time a modern-day disciple has a resurrection moment – a moment when it becomes real, when the truth that is sought is suddenly found, and found to be more deep and broad and high than the seeker ever dreamed.

So which of these is the ‘real’ resurrection?  The historical moment of Jesus’ own death turning to life, or the spiritual moment of our own death turning to life, each one of us, as it becomes real in our lives?

Which leads us back to Pilate’s question, and  back to Thomas’ doubt.

Attendances in church over Easter were up on last year.  Not just here, but all over the country. And the number of people attending worship in Cathedrals – where mystery and awe and wonder are most clearly in evidence in worship – has increased 30% in the last ten years. Among all the fears that as a society we are becoming ever more materialistic, ever more secular, there is good evidence that there is still – and perhaps more than ever – a desire to engage with God, to engage with things that go far beyond the world of the senses, and yet are revealed in what we see and experience in the world.

We might well feel like the gathered few behind the closed door sometimes, but we gather in expectation:  that there is a truth that is bigger and deeper and broader and higher than we can imagine.  We want some token of our doubtful seeking that, yes, we can see and hear and touch.  But we also want something that shows us that what we see and hear and touch is not the highest reality that there is, but can point us to that greater reality.

We may tend to think of material, physical reality as the most ‘real’ form of reality there is. If we were to see someone walk through a solid wall or a locked door, we, like the disciples, might assume that the person was somehow insubstantial, less ‘real’ than the physical barrier they just passed through.

But what if the reason why the risen Christ can walk through walls is not because he is insubstantial, but because his risen form is so real, so substantial, that the wall is insubstantial in comparison?

This physical reality – the material world around us – cannot be at odds with God. I’m not trying to advocate some kind of ‘spiritual is good, material world is bad’ kind of dualism.  Rather, what we see around us can help to show who and what God really is.  Again, that’s why cathedral worship does it so well – it’s absolutely about saturating the senses with beauty.  And that’s why people often feel close to God in gardens, on mountain tops, and so on. They are places where our senses are assailed by such beauty that we start to be able to see beyond it.

In today’s gospel the disciples see in the person of Jesus just a glimpse of that greater reality.  May we too, be granted such glimpses, and be changed by them, so that as the resurrection becomes real for us, so the light and life and love of God made real in us can spill out and become real for the whole of God’s creation.