The Revd Mark’s Easter notes

Dear friends

 Some years back, a friend of mine wrote a comic Christmas play called, ‘Scrub that Manger!’ Underneath the laughter, he was making a serious point about how the toughness of the story gets lost underneath layers of sentimentality. We like to focus on fluffy lambs and pretty stable scenes rather than teenage pregnancy, family disgrace, despotic rulers and state-sponsored mass murder.

 It’s understandable. Christmas is a time when we have an opportunity to help children especially connect with the Christian story. It’s sensible and proper to downplay the harsher aspects. It’s a family show after all.

 It’s much harder to do that with Holy Week and Easter. That’s not to say there isn’t sentimentality at this time of year, but bunnies, eggs and chicks have far more to do with pagan sensibilities than the Christian story. It is possible, if we’re just Sunday Christians, to go from Palm Sunday to Easter Day without anything in between.

 I think there’s another, more subtle thing that we do, though, with the most important events in the Christian year and in the Christian story. We rush to the end, or at the very least we tell the whole story from the perspective of the end.

 I find it interesting that the day we most gloss over is Holy Saturday. It often feels like just the gap between the shock of Crucifixion and the joy of the Resurrection. But I think there’s more to it than that.

 Sometimes we cannot help telling even Good Friday from the perspective of Easter Day. On the other hand our liturgies and ways of approaching the story do draw us into an experience of its power. Real tears are often shed on Good Friday.

 Holy Saturday liturgies on the other hand are infrequently observed. If we do take part we find they rush us on to the Resurrection. The Vigil either begins with or ends with the ‘Service of Light’. That mitigates against us being able to enter into the desolation of the first generation of disciples in that first Holy Week.

 They hadn’t really been paying attention when Jesus spoke, as he sometimes did, about his death and Resurrection. They ere confused and shattered by his humiliation and death. They were sceptical and perhaps even hurt and angered by the first reports of his empty tomb. And those first witnesses wondered who had desecrated his grave rather than recalling his talk of being raised. Imagine how they felt on that first Holy Saturday.

They didn’t understand or know that Jesus would be raised. They were just left with each other to mourn and ponder all their shattered hopes. It was over. Jesus was dead. Dead and buried.

 We are Easter people. The Resurrection is fundamentally the Gospel to which we bear witness. Jesus is Risen. This is the Good News. But without the desolation of Holy Saturday, we are in danger of cheapening the grace of God. This isn’t a plea to turn up to a service. This is an encouragement to spend some time in your own way this Holy Week and in your own Christian discipleship more generally, imagining your way into the desolation of Holy Saturday.

 That’s not because I think it’s good for us to be miserable in some masochistic way. It’s because before we can offer people the hope of Resurrection, we need to understand the depth of their loss, their sadness, their grief. If we cannot stand with them in those experiences, we demean them by rushing to offer hope. Our faith doesn’t leave us in our desolation but, by God, it does meet us there. And that’s the other point. It’s not just other people’s loss, sadness and desolation. It’s our own too. It’s damaging, I think, to our emotional well-being to rush ourselves on, to deny even, the depth of those experiences in our own lives. In the cold, dark, deathly places, where God is absent, dead even, even there God is with us. God stays with us, waiting. Only when we attend to those experiences in our own lives and find God  here, and experience Resurrection there, can we offer people Good News with real compassion.

 I pray that this Holy Week, this Easter, we may all have a deeper experience of God’s presence with us in the darkness and so be enabled to celebrate the dawn with deeper joy.

 With love from Mark.

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