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Thankfulness: the path to joy

21 April 2017

NOW that Easter Day is past, it is useful to reflect on how the Easter season might be kept. As Angela Tilby wrote last week, Prayer Book Anglicanism had little truck with the idea of a season, dropping nearly all reference to the resurrection by the Second Sunday. It takes more than a change in the name of the following Sundays — from the Prayer Book’s “after Easter” to the “of Easter” in Common Worship — to effect a change in people’s thinking. One suggestion is to recruit hymnody. It is remarkable how the notion of the 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany is kept alive in popular culture almost entirely by the mildly absurd carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Unfortunately, Easter hymns tend to be time-specific: “Jesus Christ is risen today”, “The day of resurrection” “Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day. . .”, etc.

Budding hymn-writers might well ask, however, what it is about the Easter season which could be sustained through till Pentecost in early June — beyond, of course, an emphasis on the resurrection which ought to be at the heart Christian worship at all times. To quote another comment piece, humans are driven by their emotions as much as by their thoughts, and the key emotion of Easter, astonishment at Christ’s resurrection and its implications for every believer, is not a long-lived feeling but rather one that breaks in at odd moments.

Joy, too, is a complicated emotion. The first disciples, even as they encountered their risen friend, will not have been able to wipe out the memory of the crucifixion. No one who reads the long Gospel accounts of Christ’s Passion and death is able to do so, either. Taken together with events in the news, or in the lives of individuals, joy can seem either absent or forced; or, if genuine, unfitting. The emotion that makes sense of all this, legitimising joy in the face of pain or difficulty, is thankfulness. Even at times of trauma, the recollection of God’s blessings can transform. Many of God’s blessings go unremarked, and consist of the absence of something: toothache, thirst, threat. A spiritual exercise to bring some of these unnoticed gifts to mind — perhaps inspired by the old chorus “Count your blessings, count them one by one” — might be the best response to the gift of salvation commemorated at Easter.

This year, the Easter season corresponds almost exactly with the run-up to a General Election. Thankfulness is not the foremost emotion when assailed by politicians who claim responsibility for every good thing that has happened in the past few years and none of the bad. After only two years in office, the present administration asks to be judged not on its record but on its potential. The thankfulness that can rightly be felt at living in a functioning democracy may be tempered by concern at the way the result can hang merely on a matter of timing.


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