I remember it like this:
In my childhood congregation we celebrated one Sunday of Easter, and it was glorious. In our new Easter outfits, we greeted one another with the only call and response I remember from our worship in that era:
“The Lord is risen!”
“He is risen indeed!”
Each year I reveled in the Easter carols, especially the tempo changes and sheer energy of Low in the grave He lay. It began so sad and quiet and slow:
Low in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior!
Waiting the coming day – Jesus my Lorrrrd!
We held that last note for a long time, gaining momentum for the high speed romp of 500 unaccompanied voices through the refrain:
Up from the grave He arose, (He arose)
with a mighty triumph o’er His foes! (He arose!)
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
and He lives forever with His saints to reign.
He arose! (He arose!) He arose! (He arose!)
Hallelujah! Christ arose!
(#273 in Hymnal: A Worship Book)
We followed that carol with another rouser: Christ who left his home in glory (HWB #283). We sang as fast as we possibly could, so fast I wondered whether the chorister would lose control of us. Eventually we got around to the more stately Lift your glad voices (HWB #275) or The strife is o’er (HWB #263). On that morning, we dared to joy. But the singing and all that went with it ended abruptly, and Easter was over for another year.
I’m glad that in the churches I know best, we now keep a whole season of Easter, stretching from Easter Sunday to Pentecost. I need that time each year to let Easter soak into my pores once again and to be startled by its implications.
While childhood carols still resonate deeply with me on Easter morning, my favorite hymn for the whole season of Easter is Christ is alive! Let Christians sing! (HWB #278). Brian Wren’s words speak hope to me: Christ is “no longer bound to distant hills in Palestine” but “comes to claim the here and now….”
One year a old “secular” Easter song spoke volumes to me about Christ claiming the here and now. I had just concluded an interim ministry assignment with the Black Creek Faith Community, located in a high rise subsidized housing building in Toronto.
I thought of Brian Wren’s words when I received a card in the mail from Mary, whose distinctive handwriting I recognized on the envelope. When I opened the card, my eyes took in these words printed on the inside:
God bless you and keep you
When Easter is here…
God bless you and keep you
Each day through the year.
But my ears took in a quite different sentiment. It was one of those musical cards, and I was startled to hear this tune:
In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it, you’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade.
I laughed. First I laughed at the incongruity of the messages. Then I laughed because neither Mary nor I would ever be the “grandest lady” in any Easter parade.
Of necessity, Mary wore whatever clothes she could buy very cheaply. And I’m no fashion plate either.
But then it occurred to me. Mary actually was a very grand lady in Jesus’ Easter parade. For in spite of severe health challenges, she built a community of kindness around her.
She walked three long blocks to visit community members in hospital. She picked up the mail for elderly folks who struggled to leave their apartments. She modeled patience when dealing with residents with mental health challenges. I once told her that while the Black Creek Faith Community doesn’t have deacons, she is one!
…I’ve kept that card for 20 years. The tune now wavers when I open it. I still smile when I hear that tune. It reminds me that Mary shines in the Easter parade that matters.
Questions for Reflection: Which Easter carols touch your spirit the most? Why?
Which carols or other Easter songs speak new insights to you about the implications of Jesus’ resurrection?
Next Week: The Susquehanna River Project