Paschal Good Wishes from Fr. David Sudron, House for Duty Priest in Whorlton Benefice.
This year I have held off from sending Paschal greetings until the later part of the day, feeling very strongly a resonance with the Emmaus Road story handed on to us by St Luke. The Risen Christ concealing his identity from two disciples towards evening on that first Easter Day (because they have the wrong ideas in their minds about how the Messiah does his work) seems especially pertinent this year when, for better and for worse, our celebrations take a very different form from the norm.
For now I will not elaborate my thoughts on the worse parts of those differences: they will have their day. Rather, I am trying to hold to the better parts, and the truths that have struck me with greater force because of the peculiarity of these days. Three things keeping recurring in my mind.
The first is a concentration on Christ’s Resurrection as a quietly pervading truth. We are very accustomed to Easter being a noisy celebration — one even given liturgical form in the “cacophony” heard in many places at the Vigil before the Gloria is sung. Perhaps we are sometimes in too much of a hurry to move on from what St Luke tells us St Peter did (and St John tells us he himself did) immediately after seeing the empty tomb and understanding what had happened: they simply went home. I imagine them both sitting in their houses dumbstruck, with their minds turning somersaults. No noise; just silent wonder.
The second is a distinctly Anglican way of thinking: the incomparable poetry of the Revd George Herbert, the Rector of Bemerton in the early 1630s. A recurring theme of Herbert’s poems is Christ’s always getting there before us, and his being there to offer us gifts that are richer than those we seek to offer him. Living in what I perceive to be a hyperactive period in the Church of England’s history, we are wise if we can use these days to stop flattering ourselves that the future, even of the Church, is in our hands. The poem of his that keeps coming to my mind is this one, from The Temple of 1633:
I got me flowers to straw thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.
The Sun arising in the East,
Though he give light, and th’ East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.
Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.
Which brings me to my third recurring thought, and a very English one: Ralph Vaughan Williams’s setting of this poem and four others written by Herbert in his Five Mystical Songs. RVW was a self-confessed agnostic, but there is something about the honesty of that uncertainty that draws me strongly to his church music. Indeed, to my ear his compositions express something closer to the heart of Christian truth than many who write in a rather more declamatory manner. His settings of Herbert’s poetry are exquisitely sensitive, and Sir Thomas Allen (a son of the North-East) sang them suitably exquisitely at the BBC Proms in 2004. I commend them to you for a mystical twenty minutes: View here.
As this morning I offered the great Sacrifice that wrought our redemption, images of all our churches and those who worship in them made themselves present in my mind, and I knew a strong sense of how quietly our Salvation is at work among us. He is at work no matter how unseen or misunderstood, however ghastly the horrors and privations that are come upon the world at this present. What is needful for us in this moment is simply to receive the gift that is offered — the 3rd of the Five Mystical Songs, Love, is pitch-perfect on this theme. The rest is something Christ will make clear in his own time and according to his own mind. For now, let us make our own the words of another, later Anglican divine, the Revd George Briggs: “Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest; / Nay, let us be thy guests: the feast is thine.”
With love and every blessing for the Great Fifty Days,