Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter 2013--In Prose

I tried to picture the morning in rough verse, but words are too weak to capture reality. I add more words here, knowing that the effort can only point at what was happening.

We have had a wonderful week of spring, Manitoba style, with temperatures from zero to minus 10 Celsius, bright sunshine on snow, melting slowly so that the run-off is only slightly sloppy. It looks like winter, but Manitobans know that this is really spring, albeit a bit chilly.

Then Resurrection morning came, hazy and dark, with a light covering of snow after a week of only sunshine. I had decided to walk to church for the community sunrise service. (Sunrise is at 7 a.m.—defined by the planners, not by the sun.) On this occasion the sun’s rise came close to coinciding with the community service.

The snow made footing difficult, too little to make me change my mind and drive, but just enough to conceal an unexpected patch of ice. My footprints were the only ones I saw around me as I hurried carefully along the edge of the sidewalk. Manitobans know that the footing is better away from the centre of a smooth and slippery sidewalk. No one else seemed to be up, but I knew the church would be full, and the cold wind and slippery walk only increased my sense of anticipation for the service itself.

I got there as the brass ensemble finished their prelude and the choir took its place. There were good seats up front, but I ascended into the balcony and found a spot about three rows back with nobody behind me. The music and readings began. I must admit, I was disappointed at first—it was commonplace, ordinary, people I knew and voices I knew. The excitement and anticipation stoked by the cold wind ebbed away in the back pews of the balcony.

I concentrated on the fact of the event, and reminded myself that my feelings and expectations were almost irrelevant. We were there as an act of faith and commitment, staking our lives on the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. I can do that, whatever I feel like.

Then came the unanticipated moment. We rose to sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, and a young lady who had slipped in behind me reached forward across the back of the pew to get the hymnal from our pew. She couldn’t reach it, so I gave her mine and picked up another. With the first line of the hymn I realized she had not entered the pew alone. She had a good strong soprano voice, and several others had joined her, including a strong bass underscoring our song.

The verses rose and soared: “Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia! Following our exalted head, Alleluia! Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia! Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!” No longer just the choir from the other end of the sanctuary, supported by organ and brass; now all of us sang out, sang out our hopes driving away fear.

The great moment for most in our annual community sunrise service is singing “Low in the grave He Lay.” With trumpets and organ and choir and community in full voice, the hymn moves from quiet throbbing anticipation to a crescendoing cataract of sound and joy. But this Resurrection Sunday, the voices behind me singing out when I didn’t know they were there were my great moment. The anticipation I felt hurrying through the cold wind stepping carefully on the new snow was more than rewarded—Christ the Lord I Risen today! Alleluia!
31 March 2013

Easter 2013

Early in the morning on the first day of the week
He hurried out on hazy snow-covered path
A careful scrambled haste to see what is
Rumour of new impossible hope.

Death he had seen, darkness he knew
But something more, somewhere
Hidden under new-fallen snow
Winter concealing Spring

Hurried and careful against the bitter chill
Cold north wind growing harder.
Had anyone else heard?

No one was about
Quick short steps trying not to fall
His footsteps first on the light covering of snow.

Now others hurried on in the same direction
Towards doors ahead hiding warmth and rumour
Slip inside and see something beginning
Rumour swelling into truth.

A voice cried out: Christ is Risen!
A hundred voices shouted back
A thousand thousand voices crying around the world
He cried out with them: Christ is Risen Indeed!
31 March 2013

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Week Before Easter

Life is complicated. A few weeks ago our son called us to tell us that he had just gotten engaged! Within five minutes of that joyful phone call we had a call from a close friend whose parents are planning to get a divorce. Celebration and grieving flowed together.
Most of us have experienced something like this: We celebrate with one friend who just had a baby while we grieve with another whose sister just died. Often grief and joy flow together in the same event: We remember with laughter and tears when a parent dies. Life is complicated.

I have noticed that some people try to reduce the complexity by turning a funeral into a “celebration of life”. Not a bad idea—there is much to celebrate, especially if the death is not too premature and if the loved one was someone we genuinely do celebrate. But I feel some discomfort. Grief and joy flow together, and we can’t—indeed should not—try to remove either one. Life is too complicated for that.

So we are celebrating a summer wedding. The time for planning is short, and the level of frustration grows as plans are made quickly and at a distance; but with the frustration runs a current of joy and celebration. At the same time we walk with the couple whose relationship is ending, not made less bitter because of a new relationship starting somewhere else. Life is complicated.

Good Friday is around the corner: “Sorrow and love flow mingled down”. Both joy and grief flow together as the shadows grow deeper, only to be dispelled by the light breaking in through the great resurrection of Jesus. Life is complicated; but a simple truth remains—that joy is stronger than grief, and love is stronger than hate, and life is greater than death. Always. (Even though death comes first.)