Resurrection

It is 5.45am.

My eyes are gritty. My brain feels smothered in cotton wool. The ache in my arms and legs goes down to my very bones, the exertions of the last three days making themselves felt already, and we’re not done yet.

The pilgrimage made by the women to the tomb on that Sunday morning two thousand years ago was not in a small and luridly coloured Renault travelling across the Clyde. I reflect wryly that if I had been part of that small group of loyal women on that day all those many years ago, I would have been the one begging to be allowed to inhale coffee before we went out. I would have thought, a little irreverently, that the body of Jesus, dead and cold as we expect it to be, would do no harm waiting a few minutes more for its embalming for me to be properly caffeinated. The sky is still mostly dark over Great Western Road as I slip into an empty church.

This is a place that feels of home. I know every corner of it, and standing here in the darkness and stillness I am entirely content in my own soul. On this dark Sunday morning, this place bursts with the remembered footsteps of all the people who have walked through it and memories of all that has happened over the last week.

Here, where just seven days ago a crowd gathered together with their palms and their shouts of Hosanna. A mighty Glaswegian rabble that packed in tight and then walked and sang with the Lord.

Here, where a labyrinth laid in the Nave on Monday and Tuesday, where people came to walk and pray and meditate, taking a moment of peace before the rollercoaster of the Triduum began.

Here, where water and suds were splashed as the feet of so many disciples were washed, and where we shared the supper that started with friendship and feasting and ended with betrayal.

Here, where there is a wax stain from where the great Paschal candle was smashed on the altar steps by bandits who had turned against their Messiah, and here, where I ran the length of the aisle to snatch away precious things from the back of church as the words of Psalm 22 rang in all our ears. Do not be far from me, for trouble is here and there is no one to help.

Here, where we waited that long long night in the garden. There was a point on Thursday night when I understood how the three who had fallen asleep must have felt.

Here, where the cross stood on Friday morning, and here, where so many people waited at the foot of it for hours, waiting and waiting and not leaving even when it was clear that nothing more could be done for him.

Here, where we cleaned and polished and shone on Saturday, putting everything back to rights, just in case, just in case there might be a resurrection. There are two thousand and seventeen Easter eggs hidden around the wood and stone, and cases of Prosecco waiting patiently under tables. There has been a rumour and it is said that miracles do happen, sometimes.

Here, where the murals of Gwyneth Leech show everything that has happened this week, the crowd with clubs and swords, the tree, the people passing by with their heads turned away, all of it taking place just around the corner in Kelvingrove Park. This week is not something that we can separate ourselves from by time or by place. This is something that has been real and close and true.

The sky has begun to lighten. There is a gentle spatter of Glasgow rain. Gradually, over the last hour or so, we have been joined by everyone else, our friends with whom we have grieved these last days, all arriving for what may be one final journey, one final service — or may be something else entirely. We gather together away from the sanctuary that we all love. We make our pilgrimage outside to the memorial stone where the dead of our congregation are remembered, to the place where they buried him.

And here, in the place where they buried him, a fire burns and a tomb is empty and the Gospel truth dawns that he who we loved and lost is with us now.

Christ is risen from the dead. Alleluia.

Love, Which Is Always Stronger Than Death

Of the many things I have learned over the last year, one that I consider the most important is that I can now say with authority that the pain of waking up on Easter Monday morning is every little bit as bad as the pain of waking up the day after running an actual marathon. 

The trade-off for both things is that they are worth every creak of every muscle that pulls in new and interesting ways.

In the middle of Holy Week, I had dinner with a friend who is not a Christian but who has been around for the last decade of me slipping further and further into Jerusalem and knows how that goes. She asked me what it is that we do in the Triduum, exactly, and, because she is a good and generous person, sat without interruption through what I am sure was a longer explanation than she had been counting on. The way I talk about this week in the Christian year and the length at which I talk about it is because even at the end of that explanation, I hadn’t done it justice — and the point is that you can’t, not by describing it, which clearly doesn’t mean I stop trying. And because there was a time, in the not too distant past, in a lifetime that included at least a couple of years when I was worshipping at my cathedral, when I was a Palm Sunday and Easter Day sort of Christian.

Not that I had failed to realise that there was a crucifixion, but that I just didn’t really see any need for me to dwell on that.

I mean, there was always going to be a resurrection. Right? It didn’t matter whether I sat through all the unpleasantness in the middle. Did it?

Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous.

In my own defence, I didn’t know. I didn’t know that without living the terrible reality of that crucifixion, the glory of the resurrection is no resurrection at all.

That there is more wonder in the lights rising during the singing of an Exsultet when I have sat by and wept as the light of the world went out.

That the moderately hysterical giggles around the reluctantly lighting Easter fire would be less joyful in a world where the Paschal candle never smashed to the ground.

The relief of the first communion after the pain of that last one.

That the voices crying Alleluia are more glorious when those same voices have wailed their lamentations.

That being asked, at half past six in the morning on Easter Day, to manufacture a confetti cannon is probably always funny, but funnier when it is part of misery and grief finally slipping away.

That the joy of the high holy razzmatazz of a church full of loveliness glitters less brightly in a place that was never seen to be stripped of all its loveliness. That the sound of a popping champagne cork and a clanging bell is less wonderful if you have never contemplated a dark, silent, empty place that you have loved and tried to remember what it was like before all the happiness went out of it.

And that the resurrection was never ever a sure thing.

Into this world, morning is breaking,
All of God’s people lift up your voice,
Sing out with joy, tell out the story,
All of the Earth rejoice.

My experience of the Triduum is a living Passion. A tragedy, and screams of grief that pierce the festivities of a Passover, the revelry of a Bank Holiday weekend, and the indifference of a world that seems as if it’s forgotten. A crucifixion that is real, as real for us today as it was for the people of Jerusalem two thousand years ago.

Late on Holy Saturday, I posted this video on my social media feeds. That’s how I feel on Holy Saturday. Is there going to be a resurrection? I have no idea. This is being posted two days after Easter Day because it feels too much like jinxing it to write anything about Easter in advance of it actually happening, because, well, what if it doesn’t? My experience of the Triduum is a resurrection that is an actual miracle, every time, and that kind of joy only comes from having first gone to the most appalling depths of grief. The darkness and the light. The joy and the sorrow. The sitting in a bare church where God is not, and the glory breaking from the tomb as the truth dawns that he whom we had loved and lost is with us now in every place and forever.

The reason I talk about it the way I do is because I was once promised that if I kept Holy Week and Easter the way I now do, it would change my life and it would change the way I lived my faith. It is six years ago since the first time I decided to test that promise, and it keeps being true. And therein lies that miracle.

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Photo: Stewart Macfarlane

Alleluia, Christ is risen.

One More Miracle

Now, there’s one more thing, just one thing, one more miracle, for me.

Don’t. Be. Dead.

That.

That is what we prayed for in those terrible dark hours on Friday, and what we asked for in the strange emptiness of Saturday. In our grief and our heartbreak, we’ve been looking for that miracle. We watched as He died. We saw His broken body. But in the first light of Sunday, we go out to the place where the dead are buried and we hope that He might not be among them.

I asked you to stop being dead.

Stir up in us, O Lord, courage that we might live, compassion that we might love, strength that we might mourn, audacity that we might dare to believe, and joy in the glory of resurrection.

He is risen indeed.

Alleluia.

Happy Easter Recovery Day

Well, he rose and he has been well and truly glorified and it was all utterly fabulous.

From the welcoming of the newly baptised and confirmed, to the overenthusiastic splashing of one another with baptismal water by a Provost and a Bishop. From the first triumphant shout of, “Christ is risen!”, to the sound of the many hundred voices joining in the Hallelujah Chorus. From the nervous giggles as I wondered if the holy ladder was going to overbalance and squish the trebles, to the jazz anthem accompanied by the popping of champagne corks. From the censing of the Paschal Candle, to the falling with great relief on the food at the post-Evensong party.

And then I located my bed and slept the sleep of the very very tired.

(Easter Recovery Day is what this day has been dubbed by a friend of mine, and I suspect that a truer title has never been given.)

I often wonder, on Easter Day, usually sometime after the Creed when I’ve just about stopped crying, why we don’t do this every week. By the time Evensong rolls around, I’ve remembered that if we did this every week we would have long since keeled over from sheer exhaustion.

But what a great and glorious feast it has been, what joy we have had, and what a privilege it is to be there and to do what I do.

Holy Week: The Best Bits

I swore at the alarm clock when it had the cheek to go off at half past seven this morning.

After the agony and ecstasy of Holy Week and Easter, and the wonderfully decadent sleep of Easter Monday, things are going back to normal. But before we put it all away for another year, Kelvin has asked for our best bits, and, as a sort of rounding up of everything that I was talking about last week, here are mine once again:

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1. The sound of the congregation on, “Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord.”

2. The consternation of the choir when I had a hysterical giggling fit, for very particular reasons, at the sermon. On a related note, finally getting the thurible going at the Vigil.

3. Being greeted with a Holy Water Basin held aloft and an exclamation of, “Isn’t it lovely? They were three for two!”

4. Akma singing the Exsultet.

5. The popping of the sacristy champagne cork on Easter Day.

6. Blowing out that last candle at the Stations of the Cross.

7. The very very first, “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”. That made me cry.

8. Being able to participate in the Tantum Ergo in the Good Friday evening service and feeling that in amongst all the grief we had done right by Him.

9. A text message in the very (very) early hours of Easter Day morning when an overexcited Deacon simply couldn’t wait the four hours to tell me that He was risen.

10. Realising that there were so many people at the Vigil that we had run out of service sheets.

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In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit that all ten of them were almost beaten by the sheer pleasure of at last toppling into bed on Sunday night. Yet, I wouldn’t have swapped what I spent last week doing for anything.

I hope you all had a very happy Easter, wherever you were and whatever you may have done. We must have another one next year.

Alleluia, Alleluia

A great many of us have been awake since very early this morning, when we pilgrimaged to Great Western Road to see if there had been a resurrection. We have had the pop and fizz of champagne corks, the flinging of holy water, the billowing clouds of incense, the hunting of two thousand Easter eggs, and the sound of many hundreds of voices raised in song.

It has been a great, glorious, joyful day.

And is not quite over yet.

He is risen indeed.

Alleluia.