He is risen!
Easter 2020, St Lawrence Eastcote I woke early this morning – at around 0530 – to the sound of the dawn chorus. For me, the dawn is a magical time. I love seeing the progressive arrival of the light. There is something mysterious – and sacred – about it. It makes me think of Mary Magdalene going to the tomb early on the first day of the week. I love its stillness: a calm that is almost pregnant with the day.
But when I awoke the morning, it was still dark and the birds were pretty noisy. It made the think of the ‘melody’ that has run through holy week as I’ve live-streamed services from the chapel in the vicarage. The birds have been singing in the background. I’ve found that inspiring and grounding – to have our worship intermingled with bird song.
As I listened to the dawn chorus in bed, I noticed the pitch change with the coming dawn. The song seemed less intense, not so loud. I don’t know why the birds sing when it is still dark. I would like to imagine that the light wakes them and they then start to sing. But that clearly isn’t the case: it is as if they are bringing the sounds of the day into the night. And this night, the sound was loud enough to wake me. We are very used to the resurrection being a moment of joy; of security. Easter day sees the harshness of the Lent fast give way to treats: Easter eggs, prosecco, a cooked breakfast if you’re lucky (!) and to the restoration of community. It feels like things are back to normal – and the normal is good: sin and death and hell are over-come and we rejoice in fellowship with Christ that will stretch into eternal and blessed life with him.
In the gospels, Easter is a different kind of experience. Yes: the disciples are delighted to have their friend and master back from the dead. They come to learn that they are overshadowed by the Holy Spirit when they speak in the name of Christ – and their adventures are catalogued in the Acts of the apostles. The gospels witness to something else though in their picture of the early time after the resurrection. Mark – the earliest gospel – ends abruptly in its original version: the disciples flee the empty tomb in terror and fear (Mark 16.8). In Luke, the disciples simply fail to recognize Jesus (Luke 24.13-24); they recognize him mysteriously as the Eucharist is celebrated (v. 31); but are then terrified when he appears again as they think he is a ghost (v. 37) – Luke recounts Jesus eating fish to prove that he is not a ghost (v. 43).
My point is that, for the disciples, receiving Jesus back from the dead is as much disorientating as anything else. What are you meant to do when someone who was dead comes back to you? What kind of disturbing impact is that going to have on the disciples’ grieving process? What impact is it going to have on their self-understanding, now that one of the two certainties in life – death and taxes – has been shown to be decidedly less certain. If the dead can come back to life what is not possible? We are living in a time of disorientation. The Coronavirus pandemic sees us not able to have contact with other people (or not escape those we live closest to!) Many live in fear of catching the virus and much as they feel the impact of isolation. Our social order is disrupted. Our worship has had to stop – as a public gathering at least – and so our worship and fellowship is achieved through digital media, letters and telephone conversation. On top of this, St Lawrence is in an interim process: looking at its identity, trying to make sense of the conflict which the survey revealed, yet also enjoying a renewed sense of community as we care for each other. This may be disturbing, but it is part of the disorientation that followers of Jesus have always experienced. We have one foot on earth, and, through the work of the Spirit, hearts and minds that also see into heaven as we share the same fellowship with the Father that the Son enjoys. So, in the words of the angel, ‘Do not be afraid: I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, but he has been raised.’
To feel this disorientation is to be close to the heart of the gospel and to the activity of Christ. To some extent, this is our home as Christians: living between what is and what will be. When that feels too much, I recommend listening to the birdsong. It is beautiful and calming in the day, but the birds also offer a foretaste: when it is still dark and the day is yet to come, they sing out loudly. They sing the dawn chorus. Not timidly or uncertainly, but at full pelt. This is our task as we wait for the Kingdom we first see in the resurrection of Christ: to sing its song loudly – giving others a taste of the sound of the day that is to come.
Wish you and all you love a very Happy Easter!