Reader Writes, April 2017
Lenten fasting was almost over, and now was the time; the Great Easter liturgy was here. Slowly the old king collected his cloak and summoned his servant. Must you go, asked the Queen; it's late and you are frail. Yes! I must go. And so he went, quietly, descending the hill to the monastery on the edge of the marshes. Arriving at a half hour to midnight, slipping in through the monks' door, all was dark but alive. Preparations for the liturgy had long since been under way, monks chanting, pressed around the few lit candles. Someone found him a chair in deference to his age. But all around in the body of the huge church the people were packed, standing quietly, shifting gently to make room for others. Still the peasants came, the merchants came, his people - no! God's people - came, crowding into the darkness.
At last the bishop walked forward, a stout tallow candle was lit and the Easter liturgy began with bass voice chanting, entreating, filling the darkness. Then the moment, maybe his favourite, when peasants and king, now but a servant, together pushed forward to light their candles. No rank, no order. All pressed forward slowly, held the wick to the candle and shuffled back, currents of growing light, smoke and incense filling the great space above them. “I am the light of the world” he had said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” By God, don't we need it, muttered the King. There are Turks who would conquer us, merchants who would sell us, crusaders who would 'liberate' us; all Caesars in their own way. “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.”
No wonder the liturgy takes all night. A thousand people shuffling forward now to kiss the cross. The cross of Christ, on which the Son of Man was lifted up, a sacrifice, an atonement for mankind, for Turks, for merchants, for all of them -no, all of us!- once for all. Then the climax; with a great voice the bishop declared, emphatically, thankfully, filling the nave with this stark and vital truth “Christ has died! Christ is risen!” and with a thunderous roar a thousand worshippers declared “He is risen indeed!” Thrice they confessed it, and finally, triumphantly, “Christ will come again”. If he rose from the dead, mused the old King, then certainly he was the Son of God, the redeemer so long promised, the Rock of our salvation.
If God is for me, what can man do against me?! He who is for me is greater, immeasurably greater, than he who is against me. The old King worried about his small mountain kingdom surrounded by uncertainty and greed and darkness. But the light of the world had come to them, and no one could put it out. There was much to meditate on as the whole congregation processed outside and around the church three times. Thank God for the Holy Spirit! The humble way, the healer's way, invincible integrity and love were all possible with God. And so, in the dawn, they filed out, contented, hope-charged, taking fresh bread in rough hands, a blessing, a smile, with love, with gratitude; we are one in Christ. We belong to each other. Amen.