Photos by Ralph Stewart
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
The Easter holiday is intertwined with symbols of spring and new life: baby chicks and bunnies, eggs, flowers, butterflies. In our churches, Easter lilies and other spring flowers remind us of the beauty and joy of resurrection life. It seems that all nature bursts forth with the message of life out of death, as Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Some churches will hold Easter vigils on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday. In this ancient ritual, a fire is kindled in the darkness, and from this the Paschal candle is lit and carried into the darkened church, representing the light of Christ penetrating the darkness associated with his death and burial. Other churches will hold sunrise services that begin in the darkness before the dawn, and end after the sun has risen (the Son has risen!).
These symbols and rituals are timely and appropriate in the northern hemisphere and especially in the colder regions where winter brings frozen earth and plant life. The greening of Spring coincides with and makes visible the Easter message of new life. But what about in parts of the world where Easter is celebrated in the Fall, where leaves are dropping from the trees and nature is going into hibernation for the winter? Symbolically, it seems to me that the Easter message is even more appropriate and necessary in times of death and dying, in places where the night is growing longer and people's hopes are growing dim. At these times, people most need to hear the good news that death does not have the last word, that there is hope for resurrection and new life even in the midst of despair.
Island Methodists joined the choir to sing the Cantata, a selection of different songs.
Proclaiming the resurrection is a tame venture for most of us. We who call ourselves Christians celebrate the Easter holiday at church and perhaps with a special dinner with family and friends. But what about the people in Darfur, for example, or those serving in the military in Iraq? What about people we know who are facing life-threatening surgery, or grieving the death of a loved one, or wondering how they will pay for health insurance? Is there good news for them in the Easter message of life out of death, hope out of despair? Will we, in our comfortable Easter celebrations, remember to pray for them and possibly make a commitment to be bearers of the good news through our actions as well?
On Easter, the traditional greeting Christians share is this: Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! How much the world needs to hear the good news of life triumphing over death, no matter what the season or the circumstances.
On the Island, many opportunities are available for celebrating this joyful day. The Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches will have Easter vigil services on Saturday evening as well as festival celebrations on Easter morning. The United Methodists will be gathering at Bend-in-the-Road Beach at 6 am for a sunrise service, followed by worship services in all four churches. Other churches will have special celebrations of the resurrection as well. You can find the worship schedule in the newspaper. Even if you are not a member or regular attender of a church, you are welcome to join one (or more) of these celebrations. Come and hear some good news!
Seeds planted and the hope of the future
I am writing this on one of those beautiful spring days. The window is open to let in a gentle breeze, and the birds are singing their songs. I bought some seeds the other day and hope to plant them soon. They look quite dead now, but I know when I bury them in some earth, they will soon spring to life.
Easter for me has always been a time of renewal, for it is not only seed that can regenerate but you and me as well.
I think of Mary Magdalene going to a tomb expecting the worst, contemplating the darkness of the death of her Lord, the man who helped her regenerate her own life. She is the first to find the resurrection hope in a time of darkness and despair. Every year we are called upon to remember her and the resurrection hope. Whether we see this year as hopeful or full of darkness, we are called once again to a hope deeper than what is broadcast on the evening news. I think of my seeds and my hope for them that they will germinate and grow strong, and then I lift an Easter prayer for our world that it too will germinate and resurrect and find the blessed peace and assurance of Easter.
Overcoming all that death brings
As the central event of the Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the manifestation of the ultimate victory of God's love for all creation. Hope has prevailed over death and despair, and Christ has brought the promise of everlasting life to the world. Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and giving life to those in the tomb.
Those particular words, which come from the liturgy of the Eastern Church, appear in the Book of Common Prayer at the conclusion of the office for the Burial of the Dead. They are normally sung as the body is carried from the church.
Central to Christian belief is that through the resurrection, Christ not only rises from the dead but destroys death - death in all its forms. And as members of Christ's risen body we are also called to trample down death.
But what does it mean in our time and in our culture to trample down death? It means to confront all that is death-dealing: greed, disease, poverty, hunger, violence, war and oppression, neglect of the needy and vulnerable, pollution of our planet, disregard for the dignity of all people in its many manifestations of racism, sexism, ageism, and homophobia. All of these are within our human power to overcome. We by virtue of the power of Christ's Spirit at work within us are able to be instruments of his death-destroying love. I urge all of us, whether followers of Christ or another path, to celebrate the Easter feast with this in mind.
During these anxious times it is incumbent upon all of us, but particularly those of us who have been baptized into Christ's death and resurrection, to renew our solidarity with the Risen One, and work constantly and consistently to trample down death with the cry of "Alleluia!" on our lips.
What Easter means to me
I have been preaching on Easter Sunday now since 1972. Sometimes I would prefer to sit in the congregation. It is hard for me to preach on Easter and that goes against the grain of most Baptist preachers. It is easy during Lent, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and Pentecost, but Easter throws me, it is such a grand event.
I look at the Easter crowds and often wonder "who are these people" and "why won't they be back next week?" Why on Easter? Certainly the music is grand, the sights and smells of tulips and lilies makes a wonderful setting.
I suspect that it may have to do with the way we celebrate. Easter is often seen as the great triumph over death. Jesus overcame death and God promises us life in heaven. The problem is that the claim of Easter is not presented as a present reality but a past event. To talk of only death and afterlife requires no application for the everyday life.
Easter is more that believing that death is conquered. Easter is about life being lived! When Mary and the others go to the cave they are broken-hearted and afraid and concerned. The concern is who will roll away the stone? The stone being rolled away is the first act of the Easter drama. Our lives are consumed by images of death. Who can roll away the stone from all those things that bring death to our world and our lives? The women were not so concerned with alleluias and triumph or with the thoughts of everlasting life but with the present reality. Who will move the stone?
Easter is a time to remember that God is present in our lives now, today, and tomorrow. God will roll away the stones. God will be with us in times of loss, grief, and despair. Easter reminds us that God's love reaches beyond the cemetery and touches our day to day lives and all the experiences we go through. Easter is not just a triumph over death but a discovery of life that challenges all those things that bring death and destruction to our world. The realities of racism, economic inequalities, drug addictions, inadequate education, so little support for children and women in crisis. Easter speaks to these and many other issues which wreak havoc in our world. Easter promises that God will roll away the stone so that we can face these evils and overcome their destructive power with the power of the presence of a living God.
Easter promises life, abundant, free, joyful and hopeful. Easter is God wanting to set each of us free to live life to its fullest. Easter promises us that we are not alone as we face the struggles of our own lives and the struggles of our world day by day. Easter promises God is with us.
A blessed Easter to all.