Easter Vigil 2015: ready or not

Last night, I buried Jesus under the apple tree.

Good Friday, and the daytime of Holy Saturday, are the only times in the Christian year in which the Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving, is not celebrated. Instead, on Maundy Thursday at the commemoration of the first Last Supper, enough bread and wine are consecrated to serve those present that night, and those returning on Friday to contemplate the Cross. Between those two services, the bread and the wine, the Body and its Blood, remain in the garden of Gethsemane, suspended, awaiting trial and crucifixion in a room full of flowers and light, an imitation of Eden.

After the Good Friday service, with the aumbry hanging open and its sanctuary light extinguished, the garden dismantled and the lights turned out, there is nothing to do but to consume what is left of the sacred mystery. Jesus’ body is hidden from us in the tomb, and we may not hold onto it.

Of course, the priest’s dilemma is that of any host trying to predict how much food and wine will be needed for a two-day open house. There must be enough for anyone who shows up; which generally means there is too much, which leaves us with leftovers.

After everyone had left in silence and the dark, I came into the Sacristy to finish the work of Good Friday, and I was faced with half and pound of bread and half a bottle of wine. The wine was easy; we have what is called a piscina, which is a special drain that goes straight into the ground, designed specifically for disposing of sacred elements that cannot be consumed. Which left half a pound of bread, the Body of Christ.

The two universally agreed-upon ways of disposing of sacred elements are burying or burning. There are those who scatter the Bread for the birds, and I have nothing but respect for them, but I cannot personally bring myself to break and throw and walk away from the Body with which I have formed an intimate connection. I thought also of an online colleague who had the genius idea of turning her leftover Bread into Bread Pudding; I wished, briefly, that I could be the person who could take it home, transform it into delicious dessert, resurrect it to a new life for Easter. But again, I couldn’t see myself driving it home, breaking down the Body of Christ, soaking it to bits, adding eggs, baking it, bringing it, watching the crumbs at the coffee hour, worrying about the leftovers all over again.

So instead, in the dark and the rain, I slunk past the AA meeting and got a shovel from the garage; using stepping stones to avoid too much mud, I dug a new grave, and I buried it under the apple tree.

One of the gifts of the Easter Vigil is its beginning in darkness, while the earth still rests under the shroud of Christ’s death on the cross, his entombment. On Easter morning we get all sorts of silly, with noisemakers and egg hunts and children’s sermons where anything goes – seriously, if you’re here again in the morning, remember it’s only Easter once a year and don’t think too poorly of me when I play a little loudly with the children at the mouth of the empty tomb.

In the morning, in the daylight, all is forgiven and all is revealed and restored and reawakened; but in the darkness before the dawn, we are still stumbling back towards the graveyard, retracing our steps to the tomb, and we are not sure yet what we will find.

The people of Israel, leaving Egypt under the cover of night. Ezekiel, in the valley of dry bones rising. The women, in fear and trembling wondering what, who they will find at the tomb. The deliverance of God defies death, denies the powers of evil, restores us to new life; and yet it is frightening, the power that is present, the mystery of God’s love for us, so steadfast and straightforward; incomprehensible. In the gospel which we will hear shortly, the women are afraid to tell anyone what they have seen and heard. They tremble at the thought of Jesus’ return, even as they rejoice at his rising.

We are familiar with this suspense, this conflict of desire, of hope, and the apathy of fear. A friend wrote today that it is here, in the darkness of Holy Saturday, perhaps, where we spend most of our time: in that in-between space, life-locked, nothing to do but await resurrection. And when it comes, we are barely ready, so sunk into our Saturday slough, our tombs sealed shut, our bodies running on empty, our minds run out altogether, our hearts turning over like an engine out of gas, an irregular, hollow wheeze, rattle, and thump. We are barely ready for resurrection.

And so we gather in the darkness before the dawn, and pray with those caught in the empty spaces between death and life. The ones in Kenya, shocked by sudden death; the ones whose grief has smoothed the walls of their hearts and left them hollow; the ones locked out of life by illness or addiction or despair or by locked doors, locked-up minds, locked-out hearts, the ones who wait for resurrection, and tremble at its coming.

The ones who bury the Body, because they cannot bear to see it left out for the birds, because they need to seal up the tomb.

We are barely ready for resurrection. But it is coming. Whether we are ready or not, God has never been unprepared to restore us to life, to hope, to joy;

We come together, in the darkness before the dawn, like the people of Israel gathered on the shores of the Red Sea, like the bones drawn together to await the breath of life, like the women clinging to one another, coming in fear and trembling towards the empty tomb. Whether we are ready or not, Jesus has plumbed the depths of hell and found them wanting; he has spring-cleaned the tomb and left it empty.

We come together, in fear and hope of coming face to face with new life, the power of God played out in the mystery of resurrection, the power of life over death, life let loose, unlocked, let out.

Whether we are ready or not, he has returned to jump-start our empty, wheezing hearts; to feed us with bread pudding, heavy and sweet, to restore our appetite for life.

Ready or not, resurrection is coming.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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