Easter Day at Westminster
Matins at St. Margaret’s
There was morning, there was evening, the first day (Gen. 1:5)
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24)
It seems to me that the purpose of those who put the Lectionary together is to point us to the glorious fact that today, Easter Sunday, is a new creation, ‘the first day’ as Genesis puts it. This is the day that the Lord has made, cries Psalm 118 (in v. 24), let us rejoice and be glad in it. 2 Corinthians. takes it even a step further, ‘The old has passed away; see, the new has come.’ No wonder the early Christians adopted the Sun’s Day as the first day of the week, the day on which the Resurrection of Jesus would week by week be celebrated. For everything had become new. Whatever had happened, whatever the reality of Resurrection appearances, the frightened disciples were magnificently transformed, made new. ‘The old had passed away, see the new has come.’ From shrinking behind locked doors they went out and conquered the world in the name of Jesus crucified and risen. No wonder we cry out, The Lord is risen, alleluia! He is risen indeed, alleluia! A variant of that joyful cry came from a younger sister who brought me a cup of tea very early one Easter morning. I said, The lord is risen, alleluia! and her rejoinder was, You’re telling me! That’s not a bad variant.
We may give notional or even sincere intellectual consent to all this but somehow deep down it has not taken hold of us. Can anything really be new in my life. Can this day here and now (for now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation says the Epistle) Can this day here and now be the beginning of days, a new creation for me? Can the Resurrection be for me too in this grief, in this sadness, in this sense of sinfulness or failure? Can it be thus for our jaded and suffering world, for the Tamils demonstrating across the road? All this passed through my mind as I sat thinking about this homily. Is the Resurrection God’s answer to what is going on for me and going on for the world at large? Can we find peace in it for any human exigency?
I remembered a story about a Professor of Homiletics in a Seminary who told his students that whatever topic they suggested to him, he could find a quote from Scripture. His students thought they would test him out and catch him out. They put on his podium the word, Indigestion. He looked at it and with no hesitation said, ‘And Moses took the two tablets.’ How I asked myself would I respond to the notion e.g. despair? Would my immediate response be allied to the resurrection of Jesus, the Lord is risen indeed. And if it did would I think healing and peace and all the rest would all depend on my effort, on my trying harder and harder, or is there a graciousness waiting for us?
Some years ago two of us collected coupons from The Times which ultimately led to a free trip on Euro Star to Paris. One would think we could have had a day off from religion but no, our natural bent was too strong and our first stop in Paris was Sacre Coeur. The great cathedral was filled with people but very quiet. Facing all who entered was a large notice which said, Silence, Le Seigneur vous attends. Silence, the Lord awaits you. The Lord is waiting for you. That made and still makes a deep impression on me and I have been reflecting on it with regard to this new day, to this new Easter. The Lord is waiting for you. The Lord awaits us on this Easter Day. How? Where?
In the passage from 2 Corinthians we are told that through Jesus we have been changed from God’s enemies into God’s friends. And we have been given the task of helping others to become God’s friends as well. God waits for us as friends waits for each other and gives the lie to those who would have us believe that the crucifixion of Jesus was the result of an angry God’s exacting retribution for human sin. Now, I don’t want to fall into the trap of which Bonhoeffer speaks of thinking grace comes cheap rather than costly, but as Scripture says, ‘while we were still sinners Christ died for us.’ And it seems to me we can only change if we know we are loved. In a Retreat a long time ago the Retreat Conductor told us a story about a little girl over whose bed there was a cross-stitch sampler which read, Thou God seest me. One night her mother lifted her up to read it. She said, Now darling, some people will tell you that God is always watching us to judge and find fault with us, but I want you to remember, Thou God seest me, means that God loves us so much he can’t take his eyes off us. Isn’t that the message of the Cross? The Lord is waiting for you.
In the resurrection stories we see Christ waiting for Mary in the garden, she who was looking like we do, in the wrong place for the wrong thing. He waited for Peter in what must have been his deep shame and remorse, ‘The Lord is risen indeed and has appeared to Simon.’ He waited for Cleopas (and his wife?) as they walked home and revealed himself at the meal. He waited and revealed himself to Thomas, the Doubter we call him, forgetting sometimes that to doubt and question is a part of maturing faith. He waits for us in our darknesses and doubts and then perhaps stricken with excess of light all we can do is to say with Thomas, My Lord and my God. Le Seigneur vous attends. The Lord is waiting for you.
Canon Robert two weeks ago in his sermon shared a secret with us (about his socks!) Well, I haven’t had a very good Lent. As the hymn says, Nothing in my hand I bring. If any of you feel like that and wonder if you merit any Easter joy, I think a sermon for Easter Day, attributed to John Chrysostom (347-407), Bishop of Constantinople may cheer us up and help us to take hold of what God is offering us:
If any be lovers of God, let them rejoice in this beautiful,
If any be faithful servants
let them gladly enter the joy of their Lord.
If any have arrived only at the last minute
let them not be ashamed because they have arrived so late.
For the Master is gracious
and welcomes the last no less than the first.
Enter then, all of you, into the joy of your Master.
First and last receive alike your reward.
Rich and poor dance together.
You who have fasted in Lent and you who have not,
rejoice together today.
Come, all of you, to share in this banquet of faith;
draw on the wealth of God’s mercy and love.
Let no one lament their poverty;
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for their sins,
for the light of forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death;
for the death of our Saviour has set us free.
He has destroyed death by undergoing death.
He has despoiled hell by going into hell.
Amen. Amen. So be it.
Sister Judith CSC