Thursday, 18 April 2019

“A Moveable Feast”: a sermon for Easter Day

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Easter is what’s called “a moveable feast”.  Easter, and the days that depend on Easter, move around a bit in the calendar.

Once, Easter was so late that ANZAC Day was observed on Easter Monday.  (We’re close to that situation again this year with ANZAC Day happening on the Thursday just following Easter.) 

ANZAC Day on Easter Monday that year was particularly tricky.  We put a great deal of effort in explaining to veterans in the congregation (well in advance) that we’d wait until the following week to include ANZAC Day in the service.

One veteran said to me, “But we cannot forget the Honoured Dead.”

I replied, “But Easter is about the Honoured Dead-and-Risen,” to which the reply was a definite “Harrumph!” (as they say in the comic strips). 

However, we did ANZAC Day the following Sunday and gave it a lot of attention.

Another time, Easter was so early that St. Patrick’s Day occurred during Holy Week.  There was some tension in Melbourne between the Catholic Archdiocese and the various Irish social clubs, given that the Archdiocese was discouraging its priests from conducting the usual St. Patrick’s Day masses.  (A bit of pastoral flexibility could have gone a long way, I think.  If the chap in the pulpit brought the themes of Holy Week and Easter into people’s minds on St. Pat’s Day, when they were in a good mood anyway, they could well have come back to church for a second helping of worship on Easter.)

There’s always a certain logic to Good Friday falling on Friday the 13th.

The ecumenist in me particularly likes it in those years when the Western Churches and the Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate Easter on the same Sunday.  Nevertheless, the pastor in me has a real sense of “Holy Envy” toward our neighbours in the Orthodox Churches who, in most years, can celebrate the Resurrection without having to compete with the distractions provided by the longest long weekend of the year.

And the fact that Easter is at the heart of a marathon long weekend can be a problem for the churches as we try to communicate the faith to our communities. 

·        More people are around on Good Friday than they are on Easter. 

·        There are a lot of people – both regular worshippers and others - who attend worship for the more solemn service on Good Friday, but are away by the time of the joyous services of Easter itself.

·        I’m aware of a number of events here in the Hobart area in which a group of churches co-operated on a public event communicating our faith to the wider community.  They were good events.  I attended one.  All were on Friday.  None was today.  Our neighbours overheard our words of solemnity, but not our shouts of joy.   Could that have confirmed some of our neighbours’ stereotypes of what practicing, worshipping Christians are like?

Because of the long, long weekend, there is a big gap between the Easter celebrated by the churches and the Easter celebrated by the wider community.  Over the past few years, comparing Easter with Christmas, I’ve been putting it this way:

·        On the one hand, worshipping Christians and the wider community celebrate essentially the same Christmas as each other.

·        On the other hand, worshipping Christians and the wider community celebrate radically different Easters to each other.

And I think it’s definitely logically consistent for a Christian to seriously want to be “into” the culture’s celebrations at Christmas, yet also for the same Christian to want to be radically countercultural, and even borderline monastic, during Holy Week and Easter.

Back to our “moveable feast.”

In terms of a wider ecumenism, I always like it when Easter and Passover coincide neatly, as they do this year.  Once, there was even a year when Easter, Passover, and a major Muslim feast happened at the same time, so three great branches of the People of God were all celebrating major festivals of faith at the one time.

Last year, two interesting things happened.  One was that Ash Wednesday happened on the same day as St. Valentine’s Day.  This resulted in a few funny posts on social media, focusing on what a Lenten St. Valentine’s Day card would look like.

The other interesting thing last year was the best of all, though.  If you remember, Easter fell on April Fools’ Day.   

This makes particular sense.  In many ways the first Easter was also the first April Fools’ Day.

Think about it.  Death thought it had Jesus just where it wanted him.  But on Easter, Jesus looked Death straight in the eye and said “April Fool!” 

(If people laugh:  Thank you for laughing.  Resurrection people laugh.)

(If people don’t laugh:  It’s OK.  You were allowed to laugh at that.  Resurrection people laugh.)

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!