Lessons for the Great Vigil: Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21; Ezekiel 36:24-28; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Psalm 114; Romans 6:3-11; Luke 24:1-12
Gerard Manley Hopkins has a wonderful poem, “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” Its 280 lines so I won’t trouble with the whole reading tonight. But hear the last two stanzas:
Now burn, new born to the world
The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled
Mid-numbered He in three of the thunder-throne!
Not a dooms-day dazzle in his coming nor dark as he came;
Kind, but royally reclaiming his own;
A released shower, let flash to the shire, not a lightning of fire hard-hurled.
Dame, at our door
Drowned, and among our shoals,
Remember us in the roads, the heaven-haven of the Reward:
Our King back, oh, upon English souls!
Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east,
More brightening her, rare-dear Britain, as his reign rolls,
Pride, rose, prince, hero of us, high-priest,
Our hearts’ charity’s hearth’s fire, our thoughts’ chivalry’s throng’s Lord.
Near the end, did you hear that phrase….where Hopkins uses the phrase “Let him Easter in us.” “Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east” In this phrase, he uses Easter in a unique way. Hopkins chooses to use the noun Easter as a verb. Hopkins writes, “Let him Easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us.”
It is a splendid phrase. It is a beautiful prayer really, “Let him Easter in us.” In fact, I think this is a great way to look at the real truth, the transforming reality of Easter. Let Easter get into us. Let Easter come and live where we live. Let Easter permeate our souls. Let him Easter in us, and be a dayspring to our dimness. Isn’t that really what we all desire most? Not Easter as a noun, about a long-ago event or even as a single day filled with Church and chocolate bunnies. But, rather, don’t we all just desire Easter-the-verb, something that transforms our present lives, as something that gives us new life now, as something that gives us hope and meaning and courage. Isn’t that what every human heart longs for? Let him Easter in us!
Philips Brooks, a nineteenth-century Episcopal bishop and author, once said,
“The great Easter truth is not that we are to live newly after death, but that we are to be new here and now by the power of the resurrection.”
The good news of Easter is that there is the possibility of new life now. The power of the resurrection is not something that simply awaits us after death, but something that comes to us now, that comes to us always, that proclaims the good news that new life is possible here, now, today.
It does seem like in so many ways, people are longing for an experience of Easter in their lives. A widow whose husband died at a much too early age. A man who is struggling with a new career at midlife and fears his ability to cope with new challenges. A fried who fell into a deep depression and struggles to live through the day with meager energy. In so many ways, so many people are longing for new life, for God to Easter in us, and be a dayspring to the dimness of us.
One could say that the women who arrived at the tomb early on that first Easter morning also needed to experience Easter as a verb. As the gospels tell it, the women came to the tomb thinking that the story had ended, that it was all over between them and Jesus. They had gone to attend to the dead body of Jesus, to anoint him, to wrap him up, and to give him a proper burial, and we may suppose to mourn the loss of their Lord.
What they get when they arrive, however, is breathtaking news. As the Gospel of Mark tells it, “He is risen he is not here.” Luke announces more enigmatically, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Whichever account one reads, God has raised Christ from the dead and that he has gone ahead of them to Galilee where they will see him.
But what they get is Easter as a noun. Now we have no reason to believe that they doubted that God had, in fact, raised Christ from the dead. Indeed, in Luke story that we heard tonight, after their fear subsided, they went to the others who considered it but an “idle tale.”
But initially, the reality of the event was so overwhelming that they were dumbfounded. Mark even has the women fleeing the tomb “for terror and amazement had seized them. They would say nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. They experienced Easter as a noun. And the apostles likewise…the eleven were either stunned, “wondering at what had happened” or cowered in fear. They too had not yet experienced Easter as a verb but were stuck in the noun.
The women eventually did experience Easter as a verb, going and telling the other disciples that Christ had been raised from the dead. The eleven eventually experienced Easter as a verb, going forth and proclaiming the good news. Jesus Eastered in them and they were transformed from a group of terrified people, who were frightened and fearful, to apostles, to people who boldly went forth from the tomb and proclaimed the good news that because Christ is risen life is stronger than death, love is stronger than hate, and God’s peace is more powerful than human violence.
Let him Easter in us, and be a dayspring to the dimness of us. Easter is a verb. It is something that happens to us. Easter is true when it lives where we live and permeates our souls.
A few years ago, John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright engaged in a public dialogue on the meaning of the resurrection. They expressed some sharp differences of opinion; but, rather surprisingly, they both agreed that the real meaning of the early Christian witness to the resurrection was about the transformation of our lives and our world right now.
Bishop Wright puts it this way:
“Those of you who are going to preach on Easter Sunday, please note that the resurrection stories in the Gospels do not say Jesus is raised, therefore we’re going to heaven or therefore we’re going to be raised. They say Jesus is raised, therefore, God’s new creation has begun and we’ve got a job to do.”JD Crossan & NT Wright, The Resurrection of Jesus.
Crossan says that the resurrection means:
“God’s Great Clean-Up of a world grown old in evil and impurity, injustice and violence has already begun … and we are called to participate in it. The end of the world is not what we are talking about. We’re talking about cosmic transformation of this world.”JD Crossan & NT Wright, The Resurrection of Jesus.
Now, when two New Testament scholars with as widely divergent as views as Wright and Crossan agree on something, we should take notice. The great Easter truth is not that we are simply to live newly after death, but that we are to be new, here and now, by the power of the resurrection.
Easter is something that happens in us. Easter is a verb. The good news of Easter is not simply that God has raised Christ from the dead. The good news of Easter is also about the possibility and the promise that new life is available to each one of us here and now. God has raised Christ from the dead and we can claim this new life and make it our own.
Right now, at this moment, we can let go of past hurts and grudges, and start over. Right here, right now, we can overcome our fear and fixation on death and trust in the Lord of life and love. Right here, right now, wherever we are, we can claim new life in our families, in our jobs, in our relationships, in our churches, in this broken but beautiful world. We can be new “here and now by the power of the resurrection.”
God’s “Great Clean Up of the world” has begun, and we can joyfully participate. We can let Easter get into us; let Easter come and live where we live; let Easter permeate our souls. We can let him Easter in us, and be a dayspring to the dimness of us.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!