An Easter Reflection.

Here in Italy we have been in lockdown for over a month as of today. Yesterday was the culmination of this long season of Lent, which has somewhat been enhanced by the current crisis going on in the whole world. Easter is approaching, and yet, our liberation is not even close at hand. Something was different yesterday though.

Good Friday is the most solemn day in the Church year, when the Church mourns the death of Christ on the Cross. However, at the time of his crucifixion they knew the battle had not ended; his disciples knew that from the prophecies, the soldiers knew that when the earth shook. Today, we know that because of the tradition of the Church. We know that in three days from his death, we shall celebrate the great turn of events.

That is what is special about Good Friday. On Maundy Thursday, we celebrated the institution of the Holy Communion, when Christ left us with his wonderful gift of his own body and blood, shed at the sixth hour on the tree, on Good Friday. Why does Good Friday feel special in an eerie kind of way?

As many in the world, I have not been able to go out much in the past few weeks. I have been doing some volunteering which I shall not disclose here as that is between me and God - but really, the only occasion I get to see the light of day as a (quasi) free human is when I go out for groceries. Yesterday, on Good Friday, I went out to the market to get some fish and vegetables. 

Suddenly, there was something different in the air. I had to be still for a short moment, I could sense something familiar was back, something that I could sense despite the discomfort of wearing a mask and plastic gloves. Yes, it was that lovely Spring warmth that the Roman April brings with itself. Suddenly, on Good Friday, I once again felt all was going to be well.

The world is weeping the many fallen to the plague of the year twenty-twenty, Good Friday being a symbolic day to do so. However, that sun, that warmth which come back every year brought with them the assurance that the world keeps rolling and nature keeps carrying on with its cycles of life and death, which the Church's year mirrors. I knew good was going to come.

It was also Good Friday, that the Prime Minister made the announcement that the plague is decreasing, something is happening. Hope is almost restored. We have a deadline, May 4th is the day we might possibly be starting to live again. May 3rd is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Easter lasts fifty days, and we will still be in the midst of those celebrations at this time. 

The collect of the day for the Fourth Sunday of Easter in the Book of Common Prayer reads: O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the things which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely be fixed, where true joys are to be found, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Today, on Holy Saturday, the Church remembers the so-called Harrowing of Hell, the Descent of Christ into the Limbo, which we remember in the Creeds in the Daily Office and at Holy Communion. When Christ descended into the gates of nothingness to save all those who died since the creation of humankind. This day is also a time of quiet and solemn stilness, it's perhaps the oddest day in the year, when the Church is still mourning at the gates of the tomb, no services take place, and yet something is in the air.

Perhaps, it is symbolic that these two surreal days, a day of death, and a day of mourning have this odd feeling to them. It is the feeling and the assurance that something is changing. It is the power of love and hope that is going to break the tomb during the night. It is the power of the Resurrection.

The Prayer Book Gospel for Easter Sunday, from Luke, reads: The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together; and the other disciple did out-run Peter, and came first to the sepulchre; and he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying, yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie; and the napkin that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.

The feelings which emerge from the reading of this passage probably encompass all the range of human emotions: fear, surprise, confusion, and finally, joy. This is not too dissimilar from the feelings that we are experiencing at this time, this is not too different from what I felt on Good Friday, from what many of us have been thinking, helplessly, for a month. At the oddest hour, on Good Friday, we saw a glimpse of hope. The glimpse of hope that the Resurrection is going to come. Christ is going to break his chains and he is going to burst out of the tomb - 2,000 years ago and now, as we celebrate this Season of Easter, it is at Easter that he brought his message of salvation, love and freedom - and it is at Easter, on May 3rd, that we might see the light. The first verse of my favorite Easter hymn reads: The strife is o’er, the battle done; The victory of life is won; The song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!

In art, the iconography of the Resurrection is perhaps one of the simplest, and yet it is also one of my favorite ones. Christ is shining in a cloud of radiant light, his white shroud seems to be going to fall on the ground, with his right hand he is blessing the world, with the left hand, he is holding the banner of the Resurrection. Below is the sepulchre, the tomb which has been opened, the stone broken from that bursting energy of love, the soldiers sleep or are pushed away by that bang, in the background is the green hill outside the city walls, and the remnants of the temple, now his body. Being a friend of Renaissance art, I used one of my favorite examples above. Because if the central Italian countryside is so lovely as a background, why not? It is a beautiful Renaissance depiction of the Resurrection by Raffaellino del Garbo and it shows Christ in all his power and glory bursting out of the tomb.

Fear not my friends, because tonight history will change again. The banner of the Resurrection peace and joy shall fly again. That glory will be made manifest. Spring will come back as of every year, the sun shall bring his caressing warmth over us all, and the Sun shall break the tomb freeing all of us. Good Friday sadness, Holy Saturday eeariness will turn into Easter glory, we will live the Easter joy. Don't give up, we're nearly there! Soon we shall be free, free to mourn our victims and to rejoice and love our neighbor fully, again. These fifty days of Easter shall really make this change be made manifest in history. My dear friends, Christ is risen! Alleluia! 

I shall leave you with the beautiful words of the Easter Anthems which are usually sung in Easter season at Mattins in lieu of the Venite and at Holy Communion in lieu of the Psalm, it is usually sung to Anglican chant (here is a lovely recording by King's College Choir, Cambridge). I wish you all a blessed, hopeful, joyful Easter.

The Easter Anthems

Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast;
Not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness: 
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over him.
For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin: but alive unto God, 
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Christ is risen from the dead: and become the first fruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death: by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die: even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.


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