We stepped from the rain into the warm sanctuary and moved toward the altar covered with white lilies, finding places in the first pews. We sang Charles Wesley’s victorious hymn, Jesus Christ is ris’n to-day, Al – – le – lu – ia!, as the clergy and acolytes processed joyously up the red-carpeted aisle toward the chancel where light streamed through the ceiling windows onto the medieval crucifix.
“Christ is risen!” the priest cried out to us, his flock.
“He is risen indeed!” we responded in unison.
The mysterious, fantastic truth of Easter filled me this Easter morning. Christ’s resurrection from the dead meant the restoration of relationship between Man and God. My meager Lent had taught me humility, as I craved the things I had given up, as I learned how needy my body could be, how helpless, in the end, I was, dependant on my little habits. I learned humility and, from that place of humility I learned separation from God, and I understood Lent better. I understood the desert. I was thirsty.
But now resurrection made restoration and, knowing my great desire for Him, I moved through the happy liturgy knowing my humble body would be one day resurrected, that when I passed over into this new life, I would be given a new body, a perfect body, just as Christ, the paschal lamb, thepassover lamb, had been given one.
For, our preacher reminded us, it is Christ’s appearances in His perfect body, his new body, transformed into something else, that attest to the truth of His resurrection. Jesus was seen by many, many who didn’t believe, but soon did believe. Over the forty days walking the earth after His resurrection from the dead, these appearances transformed the ragtag group of terrified disciples into the first Christian Church.
We read the Gospel (John 20:1+) and again I was touched by the homely narrative, as though it was penned in a diary that evening. Instead, I knew, these were words heard again and again in a world that did not use written words as we do. Accounts were communicated orally, in sermons, in speech. Eventually the words were placed on codex, preserved. But by this time – a generation later or so – the words were certainly known by heart. These are the words we hear in the readings of the liturgy, in the Gospel for Easter Day:
The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying…
There is a good deal of running in this vital passage, a good deal of sudden amazed excitement. Mary Magdalene arrives in the dark and makes the discovery that will change the world and runs back to the others. John, the youngest of the disciples, wants us to know (he is the author after all) that he has outrun his friend Peter, showing a curious boyish pride in winning the race.
It is the same amazement and excitement that fills my soul each year on Easter morning, as the frankincense billows up the red aisle toward the high altar, filling the air above and around us, a sweet cloud settling upon the Easter lilies and the tabernacle itself. Soon, we would partake of His Body and Blood in the Eucharistic mysteries and continue the transformation of our own bodies.
The joy was steady all day, feeding my humble heart. Sons and daughters and grandchildren, nieces and friends, rang our doorbell this Easter afternoon, entered our house and filled the rooms with laughter and light. All of the many tribulations of life (which challenge us daily) seemed far away. The rain continued to pour, and we lit a fire in the grate, played Handel’s Messiah, and gathered around a tray of chips, veggies, and guacamole. We said grace, holding hands, around the buffet of salads and ham and salmon, and once more thankful for another year together on this good earth.
We praised God for his great gift of life, his promise redeemed this day, a promise I shall hold close to my heart in the weeks to come.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Allelulia!