It’s Easter Day! Today our Lord Jesus Christ has been raised gloriously from the dead. Alleluia! Today is a day for rejoicing. He is Risen: Alleluia!
But on Monday, just six days ago, I was not rejoicing. I was tearful. I was staring in shock and stunned silence – as you may have been too – watching those pictures of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burning. I first went to Notre Dame when I was 14; I was staying with my pen friend’s family in Paris. I was struck dumb, even at that age, with the beauty, the colour and light, the sheer holinessof the place. I remember we lit candles, and sat gazing in rapt silence at a great rose window, shimmering like a jewel.
Throughout most of my life, as a parish priest in England, I tried to go back most years to Notre Dame, to light candles and pray for friends and parishioners who were sick or in need. Back to the place where for me, in Eliot’s words, “prayer had been valid.”
So it was heartbreaking to see this place of beauty and loveliness where I have for years felt so close to God, mauled and wounded and ravaged by fire.
Luke 24: 1-12
There is a wonderful story told about Father Arthur Stanton, one of the great Anglo-Catholic slum priests of the nineteenth century. (Think here more Oliver Twist rather than Downton Abbey!) For over 50 years he was an assistant priest in the parish of St. Alban’s, Holborn in the Diocese of London, then an area of unspeakable poverty. Father Stanton was a tireless champion of the poor and an exuberant preacher. When he died in 1913 thousands of people lined the streets to pay their respects as the funeral procession made its way from the church to the cemetery. The story told of him is that he used to go to a street corner in his parish dressed in his black cassock, and stand there throwing his white surplice up into the air. He did this repeatedly until he had attracted a crowd of curious on lookers. Once the crowd around him was large enough, he would whip on the surplice, pull a stole out of his pocket, put it on, and begin to preach. Over time he became a well-known street preacher, both for the content of his preaching and for his attention grabbing theatrics!
Today is the glorious culmination of these days of Holy Week. Today, our Lord Jesus Christ has been raised gloriously from the dead. Alleluia!
It was still very early in the morning, Luke tells us, with just the first streaks of dawn, when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women, came to the tomb in order to carry out the last offices of love for their beloved Jesus, and to embalm his body with their spices.
Easter Day is called the Day of Resurrection, which may give us comfort, and courage, and confusion. Confusion, not about Jesus’ resurrection, nor confusion about the resurrection of those who have died. I’m thinking about the confusion this may present to us while we are still alive on this earth. The church uses the language of “resurrection power” in the here and now.