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Leader: Easter joy must not evaporate

14 April 2010

CHRISTIANS have sometimes been referred to as “the Easter people”. It is a bit of 1970s whimsy, but it serves as a cheerful alternative to “the Church”, with its institutional overtones. There is no suggestion here of using the phrase in any serious context, but it does restore the idea that the Church is the people rather than the building, and for that reason alone, there is value in contemplating its meaning. It suggests that Christians are people who have been changed utterly by the events of Easter and are henceforth defined by this, a fact that can be obscured by the impression that some Christians give of not having been changed at all.

For many congregations, their most intense experience of public worship occurs on Good Friday, whether it be austere, anguished, northern piety or theatrical, sentimental, southern extravagance. The crucifixion, rather than the golden dawn that fits more com­fort­ably on the cover of a Labour Party Manifesto, is the natural culmination of six weeks of preparation. As a result, Good Friday observances tend to be hedged about by tradition and custom. Doing things well and in good order matters most on this holiest of days, whether the choice is about which route is taken by the hundreds of nazarenos of a church fraternity in Seville, or where a cross is placed during the Three Hours.

Easter Day celebrations, by contrast, are all too often scrambled together in a few hours, since preparing anything earlier seems indecent. But this may be as it should be. The first Easter was a time of bewildered, incredulous chaos, not formal worship. The mood in church has lifted, and, helped by glorious hymnody, congregations are forgiving of any slips or deviations from good sense, or even, perhaps, good taste. The transformation begun at Easter and completed at Pentecost lifts Christians into the realms of freedom, though, as Peter and the Early Church found, it takes effort and imagination to understand the implications of this. All too often, the Church appears to be stuck at a point just after the Easter Vigil: the resurrection has happened, the tomb is empty, but the truth has not yet sunk in. The tension, the emotional sensitivity, the touchi­ness that are more associated with a funeral have not been quite shaken off. Churchgoers — particularly new ones, whose ideal­ism has not yet been tempered — are justified in wondering why the exuberant generosity of Easter morning evaporates so quickly.

“Christ is risen, we are risen.” There is no special action involved in realising the resurrection freedom that Christ offers. All it takes is a determination to hang on to Christ’s coat tails. Christ is our redeemer and our guide, and a closeness with him will naturally transform relationships with each other. “Jesus lives! our hearts know well, Nought from us his love shall sever; Life, nor death, nor powers of hell Tear us from his keeping ever. Alleluya!”

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