Jesus is Risen Alleluia!This is the first year since my confirmation at the age 11 that I have not taken communion at Easter in church, but thankfully we can have a service at home.
Along with thousands of people in our country we are in ‘lock-down’ for the sake of the NHS and its staff as well as the safety of all people. It has been an interesting time of reflection as we recall the wonderful events of Easter Day.
In my last parish of Fakenham, Easter Day was extraordinary. At sunrise on Easter Day we had a special service beginning by lighting a fire outside the church and coming into a darkened church with the lit Pascal candle. I shouted the wonderful word, ‘Christ is Risen’, everyone standing in darkness, and everyone responded, ‘He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!’ as we processed in with lit votive candles, singing an Easter Hymn, we lit every candle in the church.
After that service we had a quick breakfast before the 8am Holy Communion Service, followed by the most wonderful service of the year, the 10.30am Family Communion. Often trumpeters would herald the beginning of the service and the choir of 30 or more would process in, led by a crucifer and servers, and the organ, with its trumpet stop, shook the church with Easter music.
The church was full of spring flowers, all ages attended and there would be more people taking communion than at Midnight Communion at Christmas. Easter eggs were blessed and given to everyone, and the Rectory family went home, exhausted, but delighted, for an Easter lunch of roast lamb and simnel cake and a glass of wine, the first since Lent began, to be followed by a hunt for Easter eggs in the Vicarage garden.
Every Church I have had the privilege to serve have their ways of celebrating Easter; but this Easter, the feeling of despair and loss of hope will be in many people’s hearts. Certainly Easter will not be the same as before, but if we can save just one life by isolating ourselves at home, it will be worthwhile.
We see the women coming early to the tomb of Jesus in their feeling of despair and loss, doing what was customary, just to sit or kneel and prayer for the departed. It would be very unlikely that they would touch Jesus’ body, but simply be there to pray.
They knew that Joseph of Arimathea buried the body of Jesus before the Sabbath, and the women came very early in the morning after the Sabbath had ended. They would be taking a great risk, because there was no doubt that the tomb would be guarded; but they still came.
In Matthew we see the Gospel writer making it quite clear to new readers that Jesus had died, he had been buried and Matthew knew of the rumours in the early church and probably even today, with the various novels including the Da Vinci code, that Jesus did not die, but went on to live and even to have a family. Matthew is quite certain that Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus down from the cross, buried his dead body in a tomb and sealed it with a large stone.
The two Marys come to the tomb and are greeted by an angel after the earthquake had rolled the stone away, and are told that Jesus is not here that he has risen. Now over the years, in addition to the false rumours that Jesus did not die, but the was the body was stolen, but Matthew quite clearly puts all these rumours to bed. So it was with great joy that the two women left the tomb full of confusion and then, of course, met Jesus who said ‘Greetings’ and they ran to tell the disciples this great news. This is what we celebrate at Easter and on every Sunday.
Now this Easter will be different from any our nation has ever experienced – even during the last war. There has been, and there will be, much grief in the world; but let us never forget that we still celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. The belief in the resurrection is central to our faith and every Sunday whether at church or at home we celebrate this event. The resurrection of Jesus and our own resurrection is not just something that we hope for in the future but it is something that we celebrate now.
I hope that the time of Easter that we spend often without families and at home will not all be sad. Some years ago I trained for the ministry at King’s College London had decided to stay up in London during the Easter holidays to revise for my exams in May. I had a small flat with a tiny balcony in Highgate, and St Augustine’s Church was quite nearby. During that time I spoke to no one except the Vicar at the Church but I never felt lonely. It was the beginning of being able to cope with quiet and solitude, and realising that actually, I could cope if I had a pattern to the day.
The Monastic day of prayer, simple food and work, does actually work – and I have to add that the radio and the record player, whether it is Sunday or a Monday, make every day special. I look forward to a service of thanksgiving when this time is all over. We are going to have a wonderful service for all the villages and ring every bell we have!
With every blessing