The title of this post is in quotes because it’s not original with me. I heard it just in passing on one of several segments that NPR has run this week on Easter-related themes.
The guest, a professor of religion somewhere, was making the point that this holiday – with all its recounting of pain, suffering and death – is ultimately all about hope in a world that’s increasingly violent and uncertain. Christians celebrate it this year as Japan is still reeling from earthquakes and a tsunami, there’s violent revolution in Libya and elsewhere in the world and hanging over everything is still the threat of terrorism.
Two thousand years ago, the world was similarly in turmoil and it didn’t help the world’s greatest power of the time, the Romans, that this fellow from Nazareth in an out-of-the-way corner of their empire was calling himself a Messiah, much to the consternation of the established religious leaders there.
I’ll bet you know the story. And you’ll hear it again in church on Sunday.
But some dark days precede Easter’s message of resurrection, renewal and hope. And at our church last night, the congregation was invited to revisit the agonizing path that led to Easter Sunday in what’s called the “tenebrae” service. That’s Latin for “shadows,” and I’ve experienced it in different forms at various churches we’ve belonged to.
Communion is offered, the symbolic re-enactment of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. The service moves in stages from Jesus’ betrayal, arrest and trial to his crucifixion and death, with scripture readings and music for each part of the story. Last night the choir sang one of my favorites of the traditional old Southern hymnbook, the haunting “What Wondrous Love is This,” written in 1835 by William Walker. Click on the video below to hear a nice rendition by a group from East Carolina University.
As the service progresses, candles are extinguished, leaving only one – representing God’s love, the light of which never goes out, at the end. The church is almost dark. Before all are dismissed, flowers and other adornments of the season are removed from the sanctuary, representing the bleakness of the moment when even Christ on his cross wondered if God had forsaken him.
The congregation, following tradition, leaves in silence.
Tomorrow, I’ll participate in another Easter ritual, preparing for Sunday by visiting God’s Acre, the Moravian cemetery in Winston-Salem. It’s near Home Moravian Church, where Jayne was once a member (her mom still is) and where we were married in 1985. We’ll meet my mother-in-law and sister-in –law there to leave flowers and to clean and polish the gravestones of Jayne’s father and her paternal grandparents.
Click here for a post I wrote about this a couple of years ago and to see this simple, but beautiful resting place. It captures the meaning of Easter for me, as we remember those who have gone on before us, but celebrate a season of re-birth.
For those of you who celebrate it, have a joyous Easter.