We all know the date of Christmas, but who can tell straight away the date of Easter?
The reason is simple. Christmas is a solar festival, and we follow the solar calendar, with its 365 days per year. But Easter is a lunar festival, it is based on the full moon around the autumn equinox, and that just fries our brains trying to work it out.
Christmas is also the time when we celebrate a joyful event, we give each other presents and relax into summer.
Easter, well, that’s tougher. It centres on Good Friday, which is hardly a happy story: betrayal, show trials, torture and death for Jesus.
There is a reflection on life there. Our good times are more often planned, often months ahead. The party is organised, the food and grog ordered, the guests invited.
Tragedy is an unexpected guest. We don’t plan a day for death, pain, cancer or pandemics.
Good Friday and Easter are always unexpected, we can’t easily work out when they will occur. It’s the same for the difficult times in our lives, unexpected.
But Easter is not only the pain and death of Good Friday, it is the joy of Easter and new life. The best joy is highlighted by surprise – we enjoy because we know the cost, we have endured the pain and disappointment.
As we battle these dark weeks of uncertainty, we remember that Easter is the joy of resurrection, of change unexpected. Darkness passes, new life awaits. Jesus rose from death and lives.
But as a liturgical church, we pray through our liturgies to share the experience of these times. The notes for our Easter Vigil tell us:
The Easter Vigil marks the end of the emptiness of Holy Saturday, and leads into the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. The singing of the Exsultet, the ancient hymn of triumph and rejoicing, links this night of our Christian redemption to the Passover night of Israel’s redemption out of Egypt. Christian baptism is a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, a dying to sin in order to be reborn in him, and the Easter Vigil was from early Christian times a preferred occasion for baptism. It is fittingly a time when those who are already Christians may repeat with renewed commitment the promises of their own baptism, and strengthen their sense of incorporation into the royal and priestly ministry of the whole people of God. The Easter Gospel is proclaimed with all the joy and splendour that the church can find.
All the resources of the church – music, flowers, bells, colours – are used to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. The ‘Alleluia’, which has been silent throughout Lent, returns.
This year we will not be able to have the masses of the day and communion. I invite you all to make what we call a spiritual communion, to reflect on our sins and failure, to ask for God’s forgiveness, then to ask for his presence from afar. One popular prayer for this is:
My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
I have started the habit of giving you a hymn for the week: I do miss our music here at St George’s. We are blessed with a choir, and we are blessed with a great inheritance of music, including the many wonderful chants. I shall miss this year particularly the wonderful planctus chant of the passion reading on Good Friday, with its falling notes at the end of each sentence, and the great chant of the exsultet at the Easter vigil. One of my favourite Easter hymns is “Thine Be the Glory.” Its magnificent tune was written by George Frederic Handel in 1747, it was intended for use in his Joshua oratorio; however, it was so popular that Handel reused for his Judas Maccabaeus. Ludwig Van Beethoven composed twelve variations on it for both piano and cello.
In 1884, Edmond Budry used Handel’s tune and wrote words for them, which he titled “A Toi la Gloire.” He was inspired to write it after the death of his first wife. The hymn was first translated from French into English by Richard B. Hoyle in 1923 Do enjoy it.
1 Thine be the glory, risen, conqu’ring Son:
endless is the vict’ry thou o’er death hast won;
angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
kept the folded grave-clothes where thy body lay.
Thine be the glory, risen, conqu’ring Son;
endless is the vict’ry thou o’er death hast won.
2 Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
let the church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing,
for her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting. [Refrain]
3 No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life;
life is naught without thee: aid us in our strife;
make us more than conqu’rors, thro’ thy deathless love:
bring us safe thro’ Jordan to thy home above. [Refrain]