Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Joy

Early this morning we had sunshine in central Nebraska. I walked outside as the carillon at a church a few blocks away started playing “Jesus Christ is risen today”; the neighborhood birds provided a background chorus. In the center of our lawn, the sun was shining down on a bunch of daffodils in full bloom. Easter joy!

One of our hymns at St. Stephen’s for both the Great Vigil of Easter and Easter Day was Hymn 178: “Alleluia, alleluia! Give thanks to the risen Lord.” The first verse of this hymn reminds us that while we tend to focus on the Easter message of renewal and salvation for humankind -- looking at what the empty tomb means for us -- the resurrection of Christ is much bigger even than human salvation; our renewal and salvation is connected to the renewal or newness of all creation! And so we sang: “Jesus is Lord of all the earth. He is the King of creation.”

The snow that covered the ground for months this winter in Nebraska has melted away, the grasses and trees and other plants are greening, sprouting, in bud or beginning to bloom. Birds, squirrels, rabbits, and other animals are active. Everything has suddenly come to life! In such a springtime, the proclamation of the renewal of creation resonates with us; it’s easy to feel the interconnection between God and us and the rest of creation. We feel energized by the increased light and warmth in our part of the world and by life and growth of the plants and animals around us.

As a deacon, the words of the Exsultet remain with me in these days following the Great Vigil: “How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and [we are] reconciled to God.” That image of the realms of earth and heaven being joined together in unity, and the linking of that joining to the restoration of a good and holy relationship between God and humankind get to the depths of the Easter message: in Christ, the chasm has been bridged. All of creation is infused with God’s Holy Spirit; the spiritual and the physical are intertwined.

We rejoice in God and in God’s creation, and we have a sense of God’s joy in creation. With Easter joy in our hearts, our work as humans in the care of creation is both an obvious duty and itself the source of profound joy.

The Exsultet ends with an entreaty for God to accept the offering of the Paschal candle: “May it shine continually to drive away all darkness. May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, find it ever burning – he who gives his light to all creation, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.”

[Note: In the Episcopal Church, the Great Vigil is the first service of Easter Day. In our parish, we celebrate it Saturday evening. The Book of Common Prayer says it may be celebrated at any convenient time between sunset on Saturday and sunrise on Easter morning. The words to the Exsultet are found on pp. 286-287 of The Book of Common Prayer.]