Easter Sunday

I struggle with Easter Sunday, or at least some church expressions of it.

A few days back I was listening to a programme on Radio 4 about the increasing use of funeral singers. During the course of the programme they wheeled out a vicar who talked about music that they weren’t too keen on having in a funeral: ‘My Way’ was mentioned (I’ve had it once, and generally struggle with it myself). They then went on to talk about music they were ok with. The Vicar mentioned ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ and felt it was ‘close to the gospel’ as we try and look on the bright side.

During the same week- Holy Week-I went to two funerals. Both people had died from cancer leaving teenage children. My grasp of the gospel was not strong enough to look on the bright side….

It would be that aspect of Easter that I struggle with: the faux triumph and forced jollity that seems to come into some evangelical celebrations; the darkness, doubt and silence that happened between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday has been avoided, Lent has been ‘Eastered’ out and now you just get ‘loud’.

Meanwhile, for you, the doubts are mounting & you are not sure what/if you believe and you want it verbalised/held/not necessarily answered, but your church just gives you noise or an insipid suburban blandness. Perhaps you might get a heady cocktail of both: life may be bad, but cheer up and look on the bright side!

If Easter means anything, for me it includes the hope sometimes felt in the middle of pain, the strength to live out resurrection despite the odds or even the smile I experienced from a man with dementia who knew he was fading, yet whose face lit up as we recited the Lord’s Prayer together and said ‘I remembered that’. It has to be something that has lived/is living through Good Friday and Easter Saturday.

Strangely though, I can take this (despite the attempts of ‘happy’ Christians to put uplifting beats and twee graphics in many of the versions I saw on youtube and despite the readiness to post this on Good Friday (‘help: pain and unanswered questions; let’s avoid them!’)) especially if it is played on Easter Sunday, for in many ways we are still in Good Friday:-

[youtube]ZRiIpsbJW8o[/youtube]

A blessed Easter: Sunday’s coming.

 

When to go…

Last week someone tutted at me about the ‘priorities’ of those who did not go to a Maundy Thursday service. I think they were provoked by me saying I had forgotten as I was rehearsing for a play. A minister ‘forgetting’ something church wise is as close to a cardinal sin as, well, something very bad…erm…

I get the point, I do- Holy Week is important and if you don’t ride the journey between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, you miss the bad bits, the unresolved questions and the contradictions.

But…

I don’t get the repressed anger, the ‘shoulds’ , the implied obligations or the feeling that ‘they’ should be like ‘us’ who are regular.

Although….

I did that- frequently- I guess it is a very human thing to do: anger at the one who hasn’t tried/suffered as we have. A better way, I guess, would be to fall in love with your amazing activity again & just do it, enjoy it & demonstrate it is something great to be part of….but then ‘bless’ those who never come.

I confess: I rarely managed it.

I wish I had.

Open air thing

The churches in my village do an open air thing on Good Friday.

It is not especially ceremonial or ‘high’, but is fairly informal- 8 stops, 8 pieces of the story and 8 prayers. We joined in this Friday, not as leaders, but as ordinary punters.

I think it meant more to me that most indoor services. We read the story outside the shop where I go at least 3 times a week, in the car park of the pub where I have been known to drink beer, outside the place where I lead Beavers Scouts etc etc….

…in other words it was earthed in the real world where I live, move and have my being…. I am forced to think about the story each time I encounter those places during the course of a normal week.

…give me that anytime, against commuting to a far off place for the best ‘religious experience.’…

Easter Sunday

At short notice, I was asked to preach today. With hardly any time to prepare, I said ‘yes’.

I’m using a question mark.

Don’t get me wrong: once I hear ‘He is risen’, I am saying ‘Yes!’. But sometimes our excitement with that leads to a preaching of an aggressive certainty that sounds good in church, but doesn’t translate to real life.

This year, it struck me that the Resurrection gave most people who accepted it a huge question mark: they had to change the way they looked at things and be different.

Of course, you could preach that as an aspirational message, beloved of middle class Christians and churches, viz: ‘be different; the only barrier is your fears’. It is striking, however, that post biblical stories tell us that all of the early disciples lost their lives, the New Testament letters give us pictures of the early Christians encountering big questions around how they lived and for many, life became economically/socially and culturally harder.

They faced big questions.

And this excites me: ‘He has risen!’

Holy Saturday

We don’t really do this day in Protestant churches.

Pity: a lot of life is this grey time of waiting and not being sure.

I used this prayer last Sunday. I am not sure of its source:-

God of Holy Saturday, teach us the patience of waiting: when the work is done but the time of resurrection has not yet come, give us patient hearts and a strong faith that supports us and others in the times of darkness. For ourselves and all who are without hope….

Thursday

I remember a book I bought cheap at college. It was called ‘The Pastor’s Problems’. It was one of the tranche of books on pastoral theology that I got rid of when I had my sabbatical in 2008. The empty spaces on my shelf I replaced with my collection of Wisden Cricketer’s Almanacs as I reckoned they were more useful.

I thought this book would be helpful. In the end I found it not to be so. It reached its nadir in a chapter called ‘the pastor and the young fundamentalist.’ First of all, it was the labelling of someone who did not self identify as such, then it was the overall patronising tone along the lines of ‘he’ll grow out of it’ (it was always a ‘he‘), finally it was the overall tone of the book-the wise professional pastor giving superior advice to the person who knew no better.

It is Maundy Thursday today. I am not going to a service (the Tom Stoppard Play I am in doesn’t rehearse itself), but I like the idea that the day is built around someone who was so confident in his identity that he was able to flout social and religious conventions & go lower to wash people’s feet.

I love the idea that he didn’t stand there with a superior grin and say ‘let me tell you how to wash your feet’, or give the impression of ‘you poor people-you need me’. or wash feet and then make a play of his goodness and humility.

Like the book ‘The Pastor’s Problems’, I have met too many people who lead (and minister) by patronising/labelling others or by hinting ‘look what I’ve done.’

The triumphal entry

That is how the Palm Sunday readings is headed in most Bibles. It can lead on to thinking in terms of ‘victory’, ‘exaltation’ and ‘so blinking obvious, why didn’t the whole world bow down?’

My children’s’ Bible didn’t help: streets lined with people in freshly laundered robes cheering and waving very green palm trees. They were all deliriously happy as befits someone with not a care in the world and in clean clothes.

Except it wasn’t like that.

It was most likely a crowd of the poor and those on the edge. Many were not really sure who or what they were celebrating- but something was happening. If it was noted at all by the leaders, it would be with profound suspicion; maybe hostility. Then; nothing… the crowd are not heard of again. It doesn’t look much like triumph.

If we have been in church for any length of time we would know that: even writing it is stating the blinkin’ obvious.

And yet….

On one level we hear stories like this of hiddeness, of those on the edge, of unsure outcomes etc and then somehow re translate them into stories of triumph, of success (how many times have you heard of ‘successful churches’ or ‘successful ministers’…and then how many times have you heard the same phrases in the Bible?) of very certain outcomes?

I’m preaching twice today- I never thought I’d do that again- if anything hit me about these very familiar readings it was that. I hope I am faithful to the text and don’t get in the way.

The best Bank Holiday

(because the true meaning of Easter is rabbits and eggs)

….for me since 2000 has been today.

Why?

Because after Easter and Holy Week I could collapse. Much as I enjoyed it, towards the end I felt like a ‘homiletical battery hen.’ and just wanted to lie in a darkened room.

So this day marked rest and meeting people I hadn’t seen for a while (my family). Today is different I guess (my first Easter since 1999 that I haven’t led any services), but still welcome.

Today I will mostly be doing not a lot…

Easter Saturday

Good old protestants don’t do Easter Saturday (and many don’t do Good Friday- all that abandonment and loss; best to stay in the triumphalism...). For us, it is largely a ‘nothing’ day.

And yet…

Think on: Good Friday has happened and now it is ‘grey’- if you stay in the story, it is not clear what you do. I guess that the first followers would be trying to stay faithful even though they were weighed down with grief- that much is implied in the story. Staying faithful although not sure of the outcome seems where most of us, if we are honest, often are.

For me it is the same; I am in a new role and work with many people who are stuck in their lives between Good Friday and Easter Saturday- some hope for Easter Sunday, but it is a long road. At the same time, our family’s accommodation, whilst secure till late summer is not known. Also, soon we say goodbye to a lifestage: our last child leaves primary education. Whilst I still have the same vocation: minister, the way it is being exercised is very different to how I expected it to be- I don’t know how this will work out.

It feels a lot like Easter Saturday- and that is good. And not pretending about it is even better.