What a joy to be in this place today celebrating the resurrection. We began on a high last Sunday and have made our way though this Holy Week. People sometimes call that a journey, a waymarked path, a pilgrimage.
But for me, that doesn’t begin to describe it. For me it is more like being on a rollercoaster of emotions.
- The glory of processing on Palm Sunday. Local pipes and drums somehow taking us right into the holy city of Jerusalem here in the West End itself.
- The intimacy of washing feet on Thursday Night – an exercise that somehow always confirms for me a deep theological truth which is that I have the ugliest feet in all of Christendom.
- The brutal reality of the stripping of the altar – somehow as all the beautiful things are violently removed from the church we find ourselves taking part in the arrest and trial of Jesus.
- The stark reality of a bare church on Good Friday –the one day when the Scottish Episcopal Church somehow turns Free Presbyterian and likes it.
- And the spruce and polish yesterday when we try to make sense of the awful things we have seen and get ready.
And through it all – people and stories from the passion of Christ 2000 years ago interweaving with the people and stories of right here and right now.
Every year I learn something new about the story.
I remember one year I was working in a church which had just appointed a new sacristan before Easter – that’s the person who looks after all the kit in a church.
This person was a great support. And like so many people at this time of year, very keen to help.
At this particular place the stripping of the church was particularly effective. Just like here, everything that could be moved was hauled out of the church. Here we drag out the choir pews, steal the cross from the altar and remove everything that shines and glitters.
Doing it in any church results in two things – firstly a church just right for Good Friday. Stark and plain. The bitter, stark reality of the cross represented by a plain undecorated building. Shocking. Moving. Bewildering. You want the whole church on Good Friday to feel empty. To be still.
Secondly, the stripping of the altar results in a sacristy absolutely full of the rubble of the night before. Carpets and pews and silverware and statues and goodness knows what all upended in a hurry into a small room. And there it stays to keep the church plain and pure for the devotions.
On this particular year, I remember getting a phone call from the new sacristan at 9 am on Good Friday when we had a service at 10 am.
She came on the phone and told me that she’d been in church since 7.30 am. I have to admit that I was pleased and awed by her devotion. Sitting praying in a plain church all that time is surely commendable.
Until she said the words that no priest wants to hear on Good Friday – “Don’t worry Rector, I’ve been into the sacristy and the church and managed to get all the stuff back. The church is looking lovely.”
That year the church was stripped twice and I pulled muscles I never knew could be pulled.
There is a truth there though – Jesus won’t stay dead.
By the time I get to the end of Good Friday – one service after another where we go through the agony of the crucifixion I find myself at the last service of the day hoping that if we crucify him properly then maybe this time he’ll stay dead.
But of course…
But of course, he won’t stay dead. And our message today is very much that nothing will keep him in the grave.
Death has been vanquished. The grave has lost its sting.
Christ the Lord is risen from the dead not simply long, long ago but here and now and in our lives and in our world.
What we celebrate today is that the seed of hope grows in the human heart.
What we celebrate today is that the grave – the place of destruction, violence, decay, boredom and pain is ultimately empty.
What we celebrate today is that life is stronger, yes stronger than death.
Our God has conquered. For love, true love will always win.
I stand here because I believe goodness is always stronger than evil. Because love is stronger than hate. Because the joy of resurrection power is the new life that belongs to us to share with all people of goodwill.
You don’t have to go far to find Good Friday.
But love wins out in the end.
I remain in Good Friday though if I accept that violence is the best way to solve differences.
I remain in Good Friday if I do not challenge prejudice when it comes from any man, woman or archbishop in the street.
I remain in Good Friday if I do not share my belief that a better world than this is not only possible but essential.
This week there has been yet more sickening violence and terrorism in Nigeria and in other places around the world.
Well we as God’s people believe in a better way and are committed to a better world. We stand against the tyrant, the bomber and the bully.
And, this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury has once again tried to link in the public mind the action of terrorists in Africa with the acceptance of gay and lesbian people in the West.
Such careless disregard for gay lives has the stench of Good Friday all over it.
Love wins in the end. And love will win an end to discrimination in the church just as we’ve been winning it in the life of the state.
And this week, the Prime Minister has been courting Christian opinion by speaking about his own faith.
I’m pleased that Mr Cameron can speak of his own connections with church life.
But, Mr Cameron – if you want to court Christian opinion and make Christian people think better of you then help this country build a society far, far away, a resurrection world away, from the food-bank Britain we currently seem to find ourselves living in.
I believe in love. I believe in compassion. I believe in resurrection. And I believe we can build a better world than this.
Jesus won’t stay in the grave. Beauty won’t stay locked away in a sacristy for long.
Jesus won’t stay buried in the tomb. Justice won’t be subdued by violence but will leap up and dance and cry to the heavens for change.
Jesus won’t stay buried in the tomb.
For love wins. New life wins. Joy wins out.
And Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
For if Christ were not risen, we would not be gathered here.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Yet another post from the web-site of Fr. Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Glasgow. We, at St. Michael and All Angels, Christchurch, New Zealand, resonate with the great mixture of Sorrow and Joy accompanying the practise of the liturgical rituals of Holy Week and Easter in the Anglican Catholic Tradition.
We did not have to endure the ‘Double-Stripping’ of the sanctuary that Fr. Kelvin experienced in his former parish, but we did have all the gravity and excitement of walking with Jesus on his pilgrim way from Palm Sunday jubilation to his vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday, after the Last Supper Mass and Foot-washing – at which our dear Diocesan Bishop Victoria Matthews was present incognito.
On Good Friday, after the altar party had prostrated themselves on the floor of the empty sanctuary, we heard the Sung Passion Gospel of St. John, followed by the wonderful chanting of the Vittoria Responses during the Solemn Veneration of The Cross, and the silent Reception of Holy Communion brought from the Altar of Repose. It was lovely to see our beloved Bishop also with us in the congregation – we were one of the very few N.Z. Anglican Churches to follow the Great Triduum liturgical ceremonial.
On Holy Saturday morning, after Morning Prayer with the Franciscan Brothers who had shared Holy Week with us this year, preaching at the daily Eucharist and at the Solemn Liturgies; many helpers came to polish brass, iron linen, sweep and clean the church, and generally make the building ready for the Easter Vigil, which began outside in the church-yard at 7-30pm with the lighting of the First Fire, the Blessing of the Paschal Candle – representing the Risen Light of Christ, which was then processed through a darkened church, gradually lit by the candles of the congregation as we re-assembled indoors.
I was given the privilege of chanting the ‘Exsultet’ – the Song of Praise to the Light of Christ represented by the Paschal Candle – interspersed with choir and congregation singing “Glory to God for ever”. We then settled down to hear the reading of the Prophecies of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, leading up to the announcement of the Resurrection by Fr. Andrew, the principal Celebrant of the Mass, before the singing of the Gloria, preceded by the ringing of the tower bells, together with bells brought by choir and congregation to celebrate the beginning of the Festal, concelebrated High Mass. But first, came a procession to the Font, where the Blessing of Water took place, before the affirmation of our Baptismal Promises, and the sprinkling of the whole congregation with Holy Water – symbolising our cleansing from sins committed.
Renewed, forgiven and sanctified, we settled into the beauty of the Solemn Mass, interspersed with shouts of “Christ is Risen” by the chief celebrant, and the congregational response: “He is Risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!” The sense of joy was palpable as we dispersed after having met with the Risen Christ in Holy Communion together, thanking God for another Holy week and Easter pilgrim journey with our Blessed Saviour and Redeemer.
This time, our Bishop had to be elsewhere in the diocese, conducting other Celebrations before presiding in her Transitional Cathedral in Latimer Square on Easter Day.
So, I can heartily agree with the sentiments expressed in Fr. Kelvin Holdsworth’s Easter Sermon quoted above, as he relates his desire for the Church to become a gathering place for everyone – especially the unloved and the marginalised of our world.
Christ is Risen, Alleluia! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand