Letter from John Spiers, Associate Priest
These days it seems that joyous events can take a lot of preparation. Anyone who has had a part in organising a wedding can tell you that. A wedding in church or a wedding at a venue, they all seem to need a lot of preparation, although the Church of England wedding web site does give you tips on how to reduce the cost and make a wedding simpler
And preparation is what Christians have been doing since Ash Wednesday way back in February. For me, a priest in the Church of England, writing an article at the start of Lent that will be read around Eastertide seems odd. Surely we need to have spent six week of preparation during Lent before we can think about Easter let alone celebrate Easter. This may be a mind-set of some Christians. We must have observed a holy Lent before we have that brief outburst of immense joy that is Easter. Certainly observing Lent is important. Why? Recently two comments reminded me that this long time of reflection, meditation and self-denial is important.
Firstly someone observed that Christians, particularly those from the Church of England, are not very good at demonstrating the two extremes of emotion that are needed in the week before Easter Day, Holy Week, and on Easter Day itself: lamentation and ecstasy.
Holy Week starts with ecstasy on Palm Sunday when Jesus rides into Jerusalem to triumphant cries from the crowds waving palm leaves. Then the emotions change. There is an air of sadness around the table when Jesus has his last meal with his disciples. Puzzlement as Jesus, the master, washes their feet. The work of a servant not someone come to free the Jews from Roman oppression. Then anger at the betrayal by Judas and the arrest of Jesus.
The emotions then spiral downwards until we see the empty cross on Easter Saturday. This is truly a time for lamentation. An outward display of extreme grief. But then, just a few hours later, there is the ecstasy of the disciples meeting the resurrected Jesus. The first meeting in the garden. We can only imagine the sheer joy that Mary Magdalene felt when she recognised Jesus. Sheer joy. Pure ecstasy.
It is said that the Victorians were very good at the process of grieving and a lot of the symbolism we see today at funerals stems from Victorian practice. But that structure and symbolism often means that the immense out-pouring of grief at the death of a loved one is bottled up. I am always relieved when there are tears at a funeral. People’s grief is being expressed in one of the few ways it can. Tears. Imagine then the tears that the disciples wept on that first Good Friday. There must have been terrible lamentation at that sad, sorrowful time.
That then is one reason the first comment is relevant to Easter, why six weeks are needed to prepare for the events of Easter week. We need time to try to understand in some way the switchback of emotions from lamenta-tion to joy in the space of just a week.
The second comment illustrates another reason why we need six weeks to prepare for Easter. A 16 year old girl from a youth group which is part of a church in Reading said that, until she started coming to the youth group, she thought that the story of Jesus was like a Disney film, a fairy tale.
But the events related in the four Gospels are true stories. The events that the Gospel writers describe to us happened. Not only did they happen but they galvanised the early followers of Jesus to continue his work and build a church that is 2 billion strong and is still growing. The events we celebrate are real. Jesus is alive. Today! This takes some thinking about. Not only that Jesus is alive today but the empty cross tells us that we are free from the burden of sin and death. The events of Holy Week challenge all the laws of physics, all of our normal thinking about death and the human condition. But then God is awesome, eternal and mysterious and is beyond science. Indeed God is something that we can only start to comprehend. So we need six weeks of Lent to stretch our thinking beyond our comfort zone, to be ready to say that Jesus is truly risen today, Easter Day
Reverend John Spiers