St John's The United Reformed Church in Northwood

Easter Thoughts

This Easter reflection is not sponsored by Waitrose !

You know some wires and traditions have become well and truly tangled when the March hare appears bearing an Easter egg on a shelf near you … fully stocked too. There is however a connection. The bizarre dance of the March hare and the more humble Easter egg both link to ideas of fertility and plenty. Easter falls at that point in the year when there is ample evidence of winter making way for spring. Indeed the name Easter, some suggest, derives from the name of the pagan goddess Eostre. And then it’s not a hare’s leap to the word oestrogen.

As if to prove the point the manse garden presently sounds like a building site as two magpie clans set to building their elaborate nests. I have watched as one mighty bird airlifts great branches across the lawn, weaving them into a structure secured by a concrete-like paste, mud mixed, then transported aloft. Peace and quiet? Lock down? Nope … much more like living with Wimpy Construction on site!

In German, Easter translates as Ostern, suggestive of a new dawn, sun rising over eastern skies.

In recent nights you will have noticed the stunning full moon rising. It is known as the pink moon because of the early blooming wild flower that carpets much of North America in Spring.

This super moon reminds us of the great ebb and flow of things; the tides of men and women, all living things, pushed and pulled by forces way beyond our control.

“For everything under the heavens there is a time, a season …”

Supermoon (Pink moon) pierced by the Shard, London. April 2020.

On a rather different note there is a powerful link at Easter to the Jewish festival of Passover, commemorating the return of the Jewish people from their exile in Egypt. Hence in French, Pâques.

Easter taps into our consciousness on so many levels. Its roots run deeper and farther than any one tidy explanation or tradition. Therein lies its richness and promise. All kinds of seeds are sown come Easter, in newly tilled earth, but all require more than water and sun to grow. Human endeavour, toil and imagination will have their place. But that’s never enough:

For as we sing at a school not so far from here:

Homo plantet, homo irrigat
Sed Deus dat incrementum.
Homo plantat, homo fodit,
Prundens irrigat custodit,
Sed fovente Deo prodit,
Prodit incrementum.

Man plants, man waters
But God bestows growth.
Man Plants, man digs,
Man waters and tends carefully,
But it is only by God’s cherishing
That he produces growth.

These last few weeks have seen much toil and labour and considerable readjustment on all our parts. Our focus has shifted, no more so perhaps than in the NHS. But let’s not forget all the other areas of our lives where huge transitions have unfolded, not least in the world of education. And, of course, the Church too.

A shift in focus is what, ordinarily, the season of Lent is all about. Forty days in the wilderness; a place, a season, where we can be disoriented, when we wonder, will it ever end. Familiar?

Those wilderness experiences are embedded in our human journeys. None of us are immune. They are defined precisely by the uncomfortable truth that we cannot define the end point.

I have never believed that Jesus was journeying to the inevitable, a defined end point. That would be to defeat faith in the vulnerable, wounded God of Love. That would be to turn God instead into a callous ogre; supplanting providential care, shared grief, with cold, cynical predestination and detachment. No thanks! You can keep that shadow of a god.

The cross is a scandal because it needn’t have happened. The cross offends because it stopped a hopeful man in his tracks. He had more to give. We know what it is when life is cut short. We still do.

In our discipleship, we honour Jesus, because we continue his journey of hope, the journey he entrusted to his friends in an upper room as he broke bread and poured wine. We persist in taking the steps that he would have taken. Even as contagion strikes, we remain vulnerable to the needs of others. When we clap our hands for the NHS, are we not in fact clapping our hands because we trust the power of loving humanity, sacrificial humanity will triumph? We imitate the way of the cross, the life of Jesus. Yes, it’s that huge! We give and we give and we give.

But let’s remember, you don’t have to be a Christian to give, to serve our NHS! To drive a bus. To be the Prime Minister, to serve the will of God. Easter is bigger than that, and we know it. No-one is immune to the love of the Creator, God of the pink moon and magpie!

Like Jesus we also hope that one day we will see light at the end of the tunnel. He has taught us to persevere, not to give up, to seek and to allow ourselves to be found; profoundly human instincts.

Some of us may be enjoying a bit more time to ourselves. But for many of us this new Lenten experience has felt excessive and isolating. An unwelcome lockdown. But perhaps it has allowed a time for a deeper contemplation than we permit ourselves usually. What if in these days our minds and souls were cast adrift, to wonder, to really wonder and to hope against all hope?

So, I wonder: Do we really want to bounce back? Even if we could?

I love the story of Noah. He counted the days and the animals! He spent time at sea, 40 days! So, time that seemed unending. He sailed with hope, but no rudder or sails, far less an engine room!

Thank you, but I’ll stick with Cunard!

Locked down with his in-laws (can you imagine!) well might he have dreamt of planting a vineyard.
And by all accounts, he did! The first vintage was obviously quite satisfactory. He drank it in copious amounts and lay naked and drunk. An embarrassment to all. Is that bouncing back? A grand return to all that shames and the humiliations that too often characterise us?

Often I wonder why in the Christian tradition Good Friday seems to have no impact whatsoever in our human routines or behaviours. We squabble and hoard. We bounce back, unscathed.

“Sin the more , that grace might abound” Really? “Justified sin”? Rubbish!

Do we really want to bounce back, return to the levels of pollution that our precious planet has been spared in recent weeks? Wouldn’t it be freeing not to put all the unnecessariness of life straight back onto the shelf? Having consumed a bit less, wouldn’t it be healing to strive for a new equilibrium? A deeper justice? What really sustains life? The mindless hoarding of pasta and toilet roll and paracetamol? I do not hope for these things. Is life really about stocking the Ark for a journey that will never actually happen?

Noah, the Ark , animals two by two … a rollicking good story, full of truth. How many times do I have to say it? A good story can set us to wonder, to hope:

Let’s revisit that original Easter and a little more fact:

What was really going on? Huge shadows were being cast. For some, it was a time of occupation when their freedoms were threatened, a time of exile in their own land. So it was hardly surprising things came to a head at Passover. People could see the connections. Emotions were running high and the control of unpredictable crowds a priority for those in authority. There was uneasy alliance between civil and temple authority. Nothing new there then! Thank heavens for the disestablished churches and free thinkers.

For a small band of unlikely pilgrims , hopes they had shared were dwindling fast and they had a hunch their teacher would not be with them for ever. In an upper room strange words suggested they’d soon have to rely upon their own imaginations, convictions and stamina. “Bread for the journey” would take on a whole new meaning … faith germinating in their hearts.

We know how the story unfolds. A tomb is prepared. A mother called Mary weeps, so too a dad called Joseph, and a largely ignorant crowd, always eager to be entertained, crows and bellows for a nice bit of public humiliation. (The Daily Mail/Express, FOX News mentality is nothing new). The cross had nothing to do with justice. Even Pilate understood that; “What’s he done wrong?”

Now. I’ll grant you we’ve come a long way from Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs … or have we?

It used to be our Easter eggs were real eggs, hard-boiled, and then decorated. We’d take them to the top of a hill and roll them down the hill on Easter Sunday morning at sunrise, to see whose got to the bottom first, preferably uncracked. Those eggs rolling down hills would be a reminder of the great boulder being rolled back to reveal an empty tomb, into which the light of a new day flooded, to reveal that our worst fears had come to nothing. Darkness didn’t have the last word.

It’s little wonder Easter is celebrated at precisely that time in the year when the light and warmth of a deepening ray touches us all, tiny seeds germinate and hope rises as surely as sap. The great cosmic reversal. Life triumphs over decay. Full moons and magpies, nests and hope. And trust in tomorrow.

The empty space, the empty tomb, set our imaginations free … and our ambitions. Let’s not return to mediocrity and normal. Redefine home. Redefine freedom. Redefine life.

But there is more:

That stone at the tomb in which a wise teacher was laid was not a great boulder, designed to seal a man’s fate. Not at all. Tombs were not locked down for good.

It was instead a carefully fashioned disc, that ran in a carefully cut groove. Heavy yes, but engineered to be moved with moderate ease. For bodies were always removed from tombs and then placed in a much smaller and more environmentally friendly ossuary, much as happens in many Mediterranean countries today.

What did it take to roll back that stone? We know perfectly well the answer to that question. A beautiful story has its place. A garden at dawn, confused gossip, lingering fear, the continuing heat of loss and grief, and something missing. It would always be missing. It still is. That is why we still seek.

That stone was rolled back by the power of humanity, its sweat and determination, faith and hope.

That’s the true miracle. And we see this happening in our world today:

We are living in difficult days. But we have seen what happens when people come together to roll back the great stones that keep out the light and warmth, what happens when we work to keep the shadows at bay. For a good few months yet, we will all be finding our way, and there may well be some heartbreak and soul searching along the way. But already in a world where it would be so easy to be disoriented or dejected, we have established a sense of the possible.

We have carved out hope. We have followed in the way. We know the weight of that stone and its lightness too. Resurrection.

This is a giant lesson unfolding for us all. And we have long, long way to go. Lent will outstrip Easter:

It always does! I find that curiously consoling. But for now:

New, unexpected light and shadow have fallen on familiar words and stories. I’ll wager we have all experienced Lent, Holy week and Easter in ways we never anticipated even a few days ago, or 40:

Good! God is still speaking to us.

Easter doesn’t discriminate.

It’s a season for all.

Just as that stunning moon rises and falls across all the nations of our world,

so too the Love of God reaches deep into the farthest and deepest crevices of the lives of all the children and peoples of our world.

There is no distinction, no discrimination.

The love of God is as full as the pink moon.

As the hare dances, we remember love cannot be locked down.

It always springs free

May yours be a peaceful Easter, Godly and human. One. Love.