Thinking Anew – Not an end but a joyful beginning

“The followers of Jesus were all over the place that first Easter morning, confused, uncertain, astonished, disbelieving, but that gives authenticity to what would follow.” Photograph: Getty Images

“The followers of Jesus were all over the place that first Easter morning, confused, uncertain, astonished, disbelieving, but that gives authenticity to what would follow.” Photograph: Getty Images

 

This Joyful Eastertide, an Easter Carol much loved by church musicians is, perhaps, less well known to people iThinking Anew – Not an end but a joyful beginningn the pews. It is described in the Companion to the Church Hymnal as “an infectiously exuberant and happy Carol” which originated in a hymn book of the Mennonite Church in Amsterdam in the 17th century. It celebrates the Easter hope we celebrate tomorrow and which is at the core of the Christian faith. This above all other aspects of the Christian faith explains and justifies the existence of every Christian community. As St Paul makes this clear in a reading appointed for tomorrow: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”

At the same time however it is important to remember that no matter how joyfully we sing our hymns tomorrow many, perhaps most of us, will be remembering with John Henry Newman “those angel faces . . . which (we) have loved long since and lost awhile”.

No matter how strong our faith, we miss the love, the warmth and the laughter of those we see no longer in the here and now, something the actor Paul Newman well understood. He lost his only son, Alan, when he was 28, and when asked by a journalist long after had it got any better, he said: “It doesn’t get better, it gets different.”

So how can we bring together the pain of loss which is with us for this life and the Christian hope which takes us beyond this life?

Things seem to have been quite chaotic that first Easter Day – an empty tomb, women in distress, disciples running here and there. There was real anxiety that they would be blamed by the authorities for stealing the body.

There was, however, one place where it seems to have been somewhat calmer – on the road to Emmaus with two men who had been followers of Jesus, making the seven-mile journey home.

They are going through a bad time, bereavement, disillusionment, and despair. They try to make sense of what has happened. They are joined by a third person whom they would later recognise as Jesus and explain to him that the one person, Jesus of Nazareth, they had put so much hope in was dead. “But we had hoped . . . ”, they said . . . their hopes and dreams shattered

We had hoped. Those words speak to a range of human disappointments and lost dreams but especially of bereavement, which is not just about loss, but losing, day after day, anniversary after anniversary.

Fred Guttenberg, whose only daughter Jaime (14) was killed in the Parkland School mass shooting in Florida three years ago put it this way: grief is love with nowhere to go.

Back in Emmaus the men invite Jesus to join them for a meal. St Luke explains what happened: “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him . . .”, reminding us that we are never alone; that even in our darkest moments God is present, recognised or not.

The followers of Jesus were all over the place that first Easter morning, confused, uncertain, astonished, disbelieving but that gives authenticity to what would follow, as Fr Henri Nouwen explains: “The friends of Jesus saw and heard him only a few times after that Easter morning but their lives were changed completely. What seemed to be the end proved to be the beginning; what seemed to be a cause for fear proved to be a cause for courage; what seemed to be a defeat proved to be a victory; and what seemed to be the basis for despair proved to be the basis for hope.” And that is why a joyful Easter tide seems appropriate.

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