Easter in a strange land


Scripture, Matthew 28: 1–8 Nigel Bunce

Alleluia! Christ has risen!  Yet this year we encounter Easter in a strange land.

What is Easter in a strange land?

Today I want to speak from my heart. It’s Easter Sunday, but it doesn’t really feel like it to me. When I came into the church this morning, I saw the frontal, now white, after the purple of Lent But there are no candles on the altar. The hymn board says ‘Easter Sunday’, but there are no hymns listed. No Welcome happy morning. No Christ the Lord is risen today. There are no flowers around the church. And most telling of all, no congregation, just Jan, Michelle, and me.

A church without people is just a building. And perhaps for me personally – for this is my personal reflection – I miss having the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, with you. These days are what Bishop Susan has called the Eucharistic Fast instead of the Eucharistic Feast.

The Scripture that came into my mind is Psalm 137, verse 4. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Those words were written when the Jewish leadership had been carted off to exile in Babylon. We are, in reality, in a strange land. The Resurrection has indeed taken place. But in our strange land of COVID 19 and self-isolation, we cannot celebrate in the same way that we usually do.

Easter in a strange land is less exuberant

Somehow, that seemed to me to be the correct response today. Yes, it is Easter Day, when we celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord. Jesus has indeed prevailed over death and the powers of darkness. But how can we truly celebrate when we can’t be together? Because Easter is an occasion to celebrate loudly, joyfully. It is much more than a date on the calendar. But we are in that difficult place: Easter in a strange land.

Because we cannot celebrate in our usual way, our Diocese has decided that we will have a full celebration of Easter, when we can gather in our churches once again. Then we can sing our Easter hymns and our Easter acclimation: Alleluia, Christ is risen, the Lord is risen indeed, alleluia. May his grace and peace be with you, may he fill our hearts with joy. Alleluia, Christ is risen, the Lord is risen indeed.

But then I thought, perhaps the diocese predicated their thinking upon the assumption that the emergency would last only a few weeks. Then back to church and everything could be almost the same. But Prime Minister Trudeau warned us this week that we might have to hunker down much longer. Would is make sense to celebrate Easter in July or August, long after even Pentecost?  I don’t think that I’d really be in the mood.  It would be like those thousands of Celebrations of Life that mourners must defer till later because no funerals are happening today.

But we must still sing the Lord’s song

Perhaps we have to sing the Lord’s song today, even though we are in that strange land. I reflect on the fact that those exiled Israelites in Babylon did not feel that they could sing their joyful songs in their strange land. It wasn’t the same. But they kept the flame of faith alive during their period of captivity. When they finally returned to Jerusalem, they ahd kept their liturgies intact and they still remembered all their rituals. They rebuilt the Temple and started over.

Just as for those Israelites from long ago, Easter isn’t the same as usual for us in our strange land called COVID. But let’s think of our blessings. Our cup is half full, not half empty. The marvels of technology allow us to be together this morning virtually, even though we can’t congregate physically.

So upon reflection, I think that we should sing the Lord’s song this morning. I’m going to sing the Easter acclamation that we use every year. I’ll sing it twice. I hope that you at home will join in the second time. Because COVID or no COVID, today is Easter Day and Jesus Christ is indeed risen today, alleluia.

Let’s sing it together, virtually

Alleluia, Christ is risen, the Lord is risen indeed, alleluia. Alleluia, Christ is risen, the Lord is risen indeed, alleluia. May his grace and peace be with you, may he fill our hearts with joy. Alleluia, Christ is risen, the Lord is risen indeed.

Resurrection stories

Most years, we read the Gospel writer John’s account of the Resurrection. It’s my favourite, and probably yours, too. It’s the story in which Mary Magdalene meets Jesus in the garden, but she does not recognize him at first. Then she suddenly realizes that the person she is with is not the gardener, but the Risen Christ.

The Angel at the Tomb of Christ. Painting by Benjamin West, 1738-1820,

This morning, as we find ourselves in exile in that strange Land of COVID, we will read Matthew’s much less elaborate version of the Resurrection story. See, for example, the commentary by Arland J. Hultgren.

It’s still the Resurrection. Mary Magdalene is still the lead actor. She and the ‘other Mary’ find an angel in the tomb, but no Jesus. The angel tells them that the Resurrection has taken place and that they must go and tell the other disciples. And off they go. And when they arrive they meet the Resurrected Christ!

This less boisterous celebration of Easter doesn’t mean that we are still in the season of Lent, and have to stay there till the Diocese gives us the OK. Christ has risen but our response – or perhaps my personal response – must remain muted until we can celebrate together properly.

The Resurrection has indeed taken place. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! But this Easter in a strange land, it seems proper to me to celebrate it much more quietly than usual. And that’s OK for me. Amen.