Monday, April 12, 2010

Let the Alleluias Ring!

It’s Easter-tide now – a season that begins on Easter Sunday and lasts until Pentecost seven weeks later. As Easter has always been my favorite holiday, I was quite happy to learn it actually lasts even longer than the twelve days of Christmas.

The earliest Easters I remember involve a frilly white and yellow dress with petticoats and pinafores and adorable, floppy-eared bunny “pockets,” my daddy in one of those grey and pale blue and tan plaid suits popular in the early seventies, a row of Easter lilies down the side of our house, and the beautiful pastel striped basket that came out every year (with chocolate-covered marshmallow bunnies, of course).

But the strongest memory, reinforced by more years than the yellow dress and daddy and his suit, is of sitting on top of a big grey tombstone in the church yard in the dewy pre-dawn, listening to an old manual pump organ and my mother’s strong, soaring soprano as we all sang out “Up from the grave he arose!” while the sun came up over the tree tops behind the cemetery.

My daddy wasn’t in that cemetery – he was buried at the bottom of a West Virginia hill with three crosses on top of it when I was three. But I knew the names on those tombstones – families whose children were my playmates, whose members were my honorary aunts and uncles. I’d seen coffins lowered into the ground there and in many other cemeteries. So I sang “Up from the grave he arose” imagining one grave bursting open that meant one day all these graves were going to be bursting open.

And you wonder that Easter has always seemed better than Christmas to me!

It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I met a particular group of Anglicans in the western and northern suburbs of Chicago that I found churches that celebrated Easter with the significance it holds in my heart.

Wearing the ashes on Ash Wednesday, those “from dust you were made and to dust you will return” ashes. Ashes that might as well be the dust of Daddy and Grandpa Rich and Grandpa and Grandma Knight and Grandpa Duggins and Grandpa McNeil and Grandpa Ould and Tom and Stacey and Grandma Ould and Grandma Rich and Aunt Robbie and the great-aunts and great-uncles and the host of friends and family who have returned to dust.

On Ash Wednesday we wear the grave on our faces.

We never really know Easter until we’ve touched that death and walked it out in Lent. Until the alleluias have been muted.

The hints of hope are there – each Lenten Sunday there is life on offer. And then on Palm Sunday we face our own duplicity – crying out praises in one moment, hailing our King, and so soon denying we know him, calling for his crucifixion.

It’s about the death that lies before us, but also the death we carry within.

On Spy Wednesday, we face ourselves at our most desperate. The friend who will betray with a kiss.

It is not a pretty thing, the potential that lies within me. We betray each other so easily, without even meaning to.

And in the midst of all that, there is still the new commandment of Maundy Thursday: “Love one another as I have loved you.” And he washed their feet and went out to die.

Maundy Thursday gets me more than anything but Easter itself. The beauty of a community – individuals in relationship with each other – serving each other in the vulnerability of naked feet. Praying for one another without regard for position, for age, for race, for gender, for kinship. A father washing his teenage son’s feet. A mother washing the feet of a daughter too young to understand what it all means. The friend and the stranger. The “prodigal” daughter who returns for just this and is always embraced and made welcome. We break the bread together and drink the wine. And then the agony of the Psalm pierces us, of a single voice:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer;
    by night as well, but I find no rest.    
Yet you are the Holy One,
    enthroned upon the praises of Israel.    
Our forefathers put their trust in you;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.    
They cried out to you and were delivered;
    they trusted in you and were not put to shame.
But as for me, I am a worm and no man,
    scorned by all and despised by the people.
All who see me laugh me to scorn;
    they curl their lips and wag their heads, saying,
"He trusted in the LORD; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, if he delights in him."
Yet you are he who took me out of the womb,
    and kept me safe upon my mother's breast.
I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born;
    you were my God when I was still in my mother's womb.
Be not far from me, for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

The cross is covered in black. The alter is stripped bare but for the chalice, overturned. All is darkness and silence.

We walk into the shadow of Good Friday—when we taste despair and know that all our darkness, all we despair of in this life, has been known and entered into.

The God of all Glory suffered all agony and went to the grave. And we go with him.

But that was not and is not, for once (and ultimately, for all), the end.

Holy Saturday brings the Great Vigil. We remember all that came before, all that was told us. From the creation of the world to the salvation of life in a boat of wood and a promise in all the colors of the rainbow. From the deliverance out of Egypt to the obedience of Abraham. From “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters,” to “Son of Man, can these bones live?”

And that always brings me right back to Ash Wednesday. To the grave and all the death both in it and walking about above it.

Can these bones live? These bones I’ve lived with, I know are all too dry. Can they again have sinews upon them, and flesh, and skin? And, most of all, can the breath of life fill them?

Can these bones live?

And the answer comes. Finally.


And it seems that all heaven breaks loose. The bells want to be rung forever (and maybe one day they will be!) proclaiming He’s alive! Hope is alive, and yes, even these bones do indeed live. For yes,

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

He is risen.
And up from all of our graves shall we too arise.



  1. love this post jennifer. fantastically written.

  2. Easter is my favorite holiday as well. Going to have to investigate this Easter-tide thing of which you speak. Love the idea. Your thoughts on Ash Wednesday gave me chills. I've come to look forward to that day but never worn ashes. Not sure I could give a clear and concise reason if asked by my conservative Baptist church family. Would cause quite the stir if I showed up to prayer meeting, I'm sure. :-O

    A special blessing this year was to have my daffodils bloom for the first time on Easter Morning. Many months ago, hope was planted in a dark pit...

    Call me vain, but I love wearing a brilliant red dress on Pentacost ;)

    Remembering the sound of your Mom's strong soprano voice...beautiful :)

    Praying a special blessing for you today.

    Your sister in Christ,

  3. Jennifer,

    Thank you for this. I wept when I read it -- for many reasons. God bless you.