I wasn’t going to write a reflection today. I was just going to refer you to the nine scripture readings that traditionally make up the Easter Vigil service, and recount the overarching story of God’s redemption of creation in Jesus. But I do have something I think the Lord has given me to encourage you with, and I pray this will be helpful as you prepare for tomorrow.
Tomorrow is going to be different for you. Tomorrow is going to be different for me. Different for us.
On the biggest and best day of celebration in the Christian calendar - a day of gathering, of rejoicing and feasting, and signing - we are going to be in our bubbles, which for many, is on our own. This will feel strange as we experience both the joy of Easter Sunday that our faith holds fast to, and the lament of not being able to celebrate as we would like. This is going to be a real cause of pain and sadness for many of us. We bear this sadness with you.
In the scriptures, we have some beautiful words to lean into in this experience.
After the destruction of Jerusalem, when many of the Jewish people were taken as captives to Babylon, a psalm was penned that captures the tension many of us may be struggling with today. In Psalm 137, the people were dispersed from their worshipping community and in exile and captivity in Babylon. When they remembered the temple, and the gathering of the people for feast days and worship, and the practice of their sacred traditions, they sat and wept (137:1)
The question then became, how could they worship and praise and be faithful to their God and feast days in a strange land? (137:4)
Perhaps these are the things you contemplate on this Holy Saturday as you think about tomorrow? You might write:
By the screens of our phones and computers Where we sat down in our bubbles We remembered our place of worship and our family gathering, and we wept.
We remembered our friends, and our favourite Easter hymns, and the gold on the front of the altar, and the kids filled with joy and excitement, and the feasting afterwards, and the alleluia acclamation, and the physical contact of a hug from a dear friend. And we wept.
With the people of God in captivity, we might also ask:
How can we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land? How can we properly celebrate Easter Sunday, and Jesus’ resurrection, in a bubble, and in light of everything going on in the world?
How indeed. It may feel for many of us, that instead of being able to burst free from the grave in glorious triumph, along with the resurrected Jesus, we are, to the contrary, still stuck in our bubbles, with the stone still rolled closed over our doors.
Perhaps we will experience tomorrow, more than any other time in recent years, the reality of the “already but not yet” of God’s redemption. Christ has been raised victorious over sin and death, and has conquered all the powers of darkness. Christ is the firstfruits of the new creation, and offers us a foretaste of the age to come, yet we experience this joy and hope in the midst of a world still in darkness. In Jesus’ resurrection the first signs of the new day have broken in, but the fullness of light is still to come.
This tension between celebration and lament is very real, so let’s be free to name it, and embrace it. It’s possible to rejoice in our lament, and lament in our rejoicing. That is ok, and very real.
One of my favourite passages in all of scripture, and perhaps the one we need to hold on to in this Easter, is the vision of John in Revelation 21:1-4
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
This passage holds all we need in our current circumstances:
A recognition that right now there is mourning and crying and pain in the reality of a world that is not yet fully healed in the way that we long for.
A voice from the throne of the one who conquered death! Amidst the voices of despair on our news cycles and social media feeds, there is a voice that breaks through!
A vision of hope! A marriage of heaven and earth, where God’s Kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as in heaven.
A promise that though in exile, where we may long for the old Jerusalem, or the old ways we worshipped and encountered God in the past, God is doing something new, something better! A promise that God’s presence will be with his people in even greater ways, bringing comfort, and healing and joy.
Today, on Holy Saturday, we mourn, but we don’t do so without hope. We shed tears, but hold steadfast to the promise that though tears come at night, joy comes in the morning.
This new thing will come into being. It is ahead of us.
So what can we do now in response to these reflections from scripture?
Feel free to be honest. Sit in the darkness of this day and take time to process your lost hopes. Write your own psalm of lament. Weep. Be silent. But do it before God, without the distracting sounds of TV or social media.
Feel free to be hopeful, and ready to rejoice. Prepare to celebrate the resurrection tomorrow in creative ways, holding on to the things you can from the past, and creatively finding ways to celebrate anew.
For those who can, join with all of our whanau in the Wellington Diocese tonight for our Chrism Service. It is being streamed online through the movement online website, Facebook, and on Freeview channel 200. The highlight of this service is the chance for all of us to reaffirm our baptismal vows. What better time than this to reaffirm our faith that just as surely as Christ died and was raised again, so surely, in our baptism we have died with him, and so surely will be raised again. What better time to affirm and declare our faith that God has the power to overcome death and to bring new life from the grave!
However you spend this evening, know that you are not alone. The thoughts and prayers of all our parish, and of Kara and I are with you. More so, the God of comfort and mercy, and hope is with you, as are his promises that he will never leave you or forsake you, and that nothing can separate you from His love in Christ. God is with you