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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

05 April 2024

The weeks after Easter Day are filled with expectancy, says Malcolm Guite

THE Easter season, all those Sundays stretching from the great day itself on till Pentecost, can sometimes feel a little underwhelming, a little subfusc, a kind of winding down after the intensity of Holy Week and the joyful extravaganza of Easter Day itself.

For clergy, of course, it’s natural to take Easter week off, to decompress, go into recovery mode, and be renewed by doing nothing, the appropriate texts for that week being “He gives to his beloved sleep,” and “The saints rejoice upon their beds.” But I am thinking of the weeks that stretch beyond that, all still in the Easter season, and I sometimes wonder whether we shouldn’t have a sense of their building up towards Ascension and Pentecost rather than dying down after Easter.

I remember once hearing an Easter sermon from John Polkinghorne, the great theologian and theoretical physicist, in which he compared the resurrection to the “singularity”: the moment of the Big Bang, from whose powerful impetus the cosmos is till unfolding. From that unique singularity, he said, the first creation sprang: not only the matter and energy, the stuff of which the world is made, but time and space themselves — and, indeed, all the hidden laws of nature, all these sprang from that single event, and expanded out to become themselves.

So it is, he said, with the resurrection of Jesus — that new singularity, that astonishing explosive event from which the new creation springs into being in the midst of the old. We are still incredibly close to that event, he said. In cosmic creative terms, 2000 years is as nothing. We’ve only just begun to see its implications, the way it changes everything. . .

His face was alive with joy as he spoke; the theologian and the physicist in him at one, plunging ever deeper into the divine presence and purpose in all things. The image he left us with, was of ever-expanding and deepening ripples, ripples becoming waves, dancing out in widening rings from this central Easter event.

That image came to mind when I wrote a new sonnet in response to the account of witnesses to the resurrection in 1 Corinthians: “First Cephas, then the twelve, then more than 500 at one time.” My sonnet picks up the count where St Paul left off:

Five hundred then, and since, so many more!
In lonely prison cells and crowded streets
At brimming springs and at exhausted wells
On days of triumph, and in dire defeats
The risen Lord has shown himself to us.
He comes unlooked for, and in answered prayer
Comes to the mystic, most mysterious
Comes to the addict in their last despair.
He fed five thousand in the wilderness
And now, in bread and wine, he comes and feeds
Uncounted millions. Once he bore one cross
But now he bears all crosses, meets all needs.
The stone flung back at Easter means we share
The widening ripples of his presence here.

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