A Message from Christopher Armstrong on Easter Sunday
Our churches remain closed but there will be a celebration of Holy Communion in the Benefice around the kitchen table at The Rectory. My lack of technical expertise means that you will not be able to see or hear it, however it will begin at 11am if you would like to join in prayer or use the readings detailed here.
The Collect for Easter Day:
God of glory, by the raising of your Son you have broken the chains of death and hell: fill your Church with faith and hope; for a new day has dawned and the way to life stands open in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Epistle: Colossians 3. 1 – 7. The Gospel: St. John 20. 1- 10.
Christopher’s Address is titled: In-Between
One of the many things I will miss about this Easter Day is the Dawn Eucharist: sitting in a darkened church, listening to various readings from the Old Testament which chart the course of our salvation history and meditating upon them in the silence. As we do this, the dawn gathers, almost mysteriously, without us knowing. Then suddenly, we are aware of the change. ‘Is it dark or is it light’? ‘Is it night or is it morning’? Then the time of hesitation passes and we know that the day has dawned with the shafts of daylight piling into the church, suffusing every corner of darkness.
The practice of getting up before dawn to celebrate The Eucharist reaches back to that first appearance of The Risen Lord to Mary Magdalene. So critical was the event to the Early Church that it was recorded in all four gospels and our gospel for today – John – is uncommonly precise: “Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark.” (John 20.1). Mary does not see the resurrection – no one does – but she returns later to see the effects – the empty tomb – together with two disbelieving (male) disciples. She lingers and then meets the Risen Lord whom she mistakes for the gardener.
The half-light. This in-between state is very common in our lives: ‘Is the egg properly cooked or not’? ‘Is our boy old enough to drink beer’? ‘Are those really the first sign of my bean shoots’? Such transitions also extend to our emotional life and moral choices too: ‘Am I really in love’? ‘Could I get away with a tax fiddle’? Truth comes at us in different forms, as any lawyer will know. As Emily Dickenson says, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”
This in-between state allows us extra choice, as our epistle today identifies when St Paul writes, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things which are above.”(Colossians 3.1) He is suggesting that experiencing the resurrection, believing in Christ, gives us a wider choice in life between the flesh and the spirit (a distinction which he goes at great lengths to explore).
So Mary’s visit to the tomb in the light of dawn has an encounter with The Risen Lord. Is it the gardener? She only recognizes Jesus when He speaks to her.
This pandemic has turned life as we know it upside down. For many, no dawn can be seen. All is pitch black: for those who have been laid off; the direction of our personal and national finances; the intense pressures upon families living in cramped premises – and many, many deaths.
For all of us, life is different. We have new priorities, either forced upon us or self-generated. We have become more aware of our neighbours, the value of food, the sacrificial work of our front line, back-office and supply services. Never before have we clapped on a Thursday night for those whose work we have taken for granted! All these are positive signs but it is too early to identify silver linings, green shoots. My hope however is that life will be different when the new ‘now’ arrives. There are glimpses, straws in the wind. People have time for each other; more are exercising; the ozone layer is healing. Many have been taken aback by unsolicited acts of kindness. Will these survive the lock-down or make it into the new reality? Time will tell. As with Mary, life has changed; it has not been taken away.
I used to work in the North-East when the steel works at Consett closed down. It devastated the region but now, you would not know a vast steel industry had been there at all, such is the multiplicity of new industry and different landscapes.
So our universal outlook is grim – and so it was for Mary Magdalene on that first Easter Day. The gloom may have continued for her and the other disciples had she not met the Risen Lord in the half-light of dawn. From that moment, life changed. It was alarming but it was enriched with hope, potential. And it got better for her and the others as the Risen Lord made himself known to more and more, corporately and individually.
Easter in Ordinary
Mary’s gloom was lifted in the half-light. It is when it is darkest that we see the stars so clearly. And so it is, I hope, with the Glory of God, which is why the darkened church on Easter Day is so important. It throws into perspective the new day, the company, the freedom to celebrate as well as the bacon butties and champagne which are an integral part of any Dawn Eucharist! So often I look for the glory of God in some Damascus Road moment: blinding flash and much drama. Well, it does happen occasionally – and I have experienced a few – but most of the time God comes to us in the normal. The new day, the delight of children, the skill of the operating theatre staff, the compassion of the consultant’s phone call, the warmth of a neighbour. In Bach’s St. John Passion, the evangelist announces the death of Jesus by moving from a minor to a major key, so critical is that moment for us all. One recent archbishop said that the glory of God is Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.
There is much foot-washing going on at the present time up and down our country. By the sacrificial staff on the front line, yes, but also along our streets and in our homes. Perhaps this lock-down has given us time to recognize it there. It’s a happy coincidence that the Jewish Passover coincides with our Easter festival this year. For the Jews (and Jesus was a Jew) this most important of feasts takes place in the home as they give thanks for their escape from captivity. We too can take a leaf out of their book. We cannot go to church but we can give thanks for the presence of the Risen Lord among us; in the provision of lunch, the imaginative games on the internet, a good night’s sleep and the hope which the eruption of the Resurrection brings of a better tomorrow. Amen.