All in the Early Morning Grey
Last night’s Easter Vigil readings began with the Creation Story. By his all-powerful Word, God crafted the cos¬mos in stages. At the story’s climax, he created the human being in his image. Each stage ended, ‘There was evening and there was morning, Day One, Day Two… Day Six.’ Then God rested. So God’s People used to keep the Seventh Day of the week holy, as a way of sharing God’s de¬light in his Creation.
We didn’t hear, ‘There was evening and there was morning, Day Seven.’ It’s as if Day Seven just kept going.
Eventually, God spoke his all-powerful Word into the world in a new way. When Jesus, the Word become flesh, healed the paralyzed man, he made him carry his mat home, though it was the Sabbath. He explained why: ‘My Father is working still, and I am working’ (John 5:17). The Father and his Word were breaking their Sabbath rest and picking up the work they had left unfinished at the end of Day Six.
That should have meant taking human beings on a smooth journey home, into the Triune God in whose image humanity was made. But the image had been spoiled; it needed remaking in a ‘re-run’ of Day Six. Two days ago, on Day Six of Holy Week, we heard Pilate bring forth Jesus crowned with thorns and say: ‘Be¬hold the Man.’ He shocked us with the ways we spoil what God crafted on Day Six – and we beheld the remedy, the New Adam’s Passion, which is God’s Word of fierce loyalty to his handiwork, a Word of mercy eloquent enough to re-fashion us.
After that, as we recalled yesterday, the Creator God could take a final Sabbath Rest in the Tomb.
Evening came, and morning, and Day Seven was over.
As Caswall’s version of O filii et filiae puts it: ‘All in the early morning grey, Went holy women on their way,’ went to the Garden on the Day after the Sabbath, to find that the Final Word of Creation had already been spoken in the silence of the Tomb, saying: ‘Let my People rise from death.’ From both kinds of death. That Word echoes throughout all ages. Every time anyone has ever risen from the spiritual death of sin – in Paul’s words, has died to sin so as walk in newness of life – that has been caused by the Word of re-making and resurrection spoken on Good Friday and this Easter Morning. That Word hits home to us in the Sacraments.
Some Easter music is triumphant, like ‘Thine be the glory,’ to Handel’s tune ‘Maccabeus.’ But much traditional Easter chant has a ‘mystical’ – even an ‘elusive’ – feel, like today’s Introit Resurrexi, which keeps hovering a semitone above the final. Some more popular Easter music has a similar feel, like ‘The strife is o’er,’ to W H Monk’s adaptation of Palestrina, or O filii et filiae. For no one saw Jesus burst from the Tomb radiant with dazzling light. All his appearances had an ‘elusive’ feel to them. When Mary Magdalene grasped him, she had to let go with her hands, and hold him by Faith, Hope and Love.
Christians do not keep the Sabbath, we keep the next Day, this, the Lord’s Day, sharing the Creator’s delight in the work he completed on the Eighth Day. We live, now, in that Eighth Day – but it’s as if we are still in its early morning grey. Jesus has gone on ahead; humanity’s journey home continues – not a smooth journey, but one energised and dignified by Jesus’ own Passing Over through Death to undying Life. We hold Jesus by the Hope of catching up with him. The Spirit helps us read the signs rightly, as John did when he saw the grave-clothes, and so we hold Jesus by Faith, Faith nourished by the Sacraments and the Scriptures. Prayer and the Sacraments bring us the grace of both Day Six and Day Eight; this grace is that Love by which we hold Jesus and, while the weeks still roll round, die to sin so as to walk in newness of life.
We shall never hear, ‘Evening came, and morning; Day Eight is over.’ We await the radiant noon of this endless Day in whose grey dawn we now journey, the noon when we will see Jesus burst the tombs open with his dazzling light. Then the Final Word of Creation spoken in the Tomb will resound even against bodily death, saying: ‘Let my People rise like me.’
Image: detail from ‘Crepuscular rays at dawn over the Normandy coast’ photographed by TeaMeister