A tenth-century manuscript was found in the monastery of St Gall in Switzerland some years ago which contains a dramatisation of the visit of the women to the tomb on Easter morning. It was evidently used in the form of worship, as a dramatic litany. The scene is the tomb with the stone rolled away. An angel guards the place. The women enter and the angel speaks, ‘Quem quaerites?’ he asks, ‘Whom do you seek?’ ‘We seek the Lord’ says Mary Magdalene. ‘He is not here – he is risen and gone before you.’
This short dramatisation marks the beginning of a religious drama. Certainly the dramatic message of Easter is – ‘Christ is risen’. The response from the congregation in most English churches is ‘He is risen indeed.’ Easter, the feast of the Resurrection, is the oldest of the Christian festivals and has been observed every year, without fail, every year since Christianity came to Britain originally through the Celtic Saint Cedd and later Cuthbert and Augustine. Even Christmas was eclipsed as a festival at some points, not so with Easter.
The Pace Egg Plays, closely resembling the Christmas Mummers’ plays, were and are still performed on Good Friday or Easter Day in many parts of Britain, and an activity called Pace Egg rolling takes place. Hard-boiled eggs, coloured and decorated, are rolled down a slope, with prizes for the children whose eggs roll furthest. This symbolises both the rolling away of the stone from Jesus’ tomb, and the rolling away of winter to usher in new life. Near where I last lived in Britain, at Biddenden in Kent, anyone can apply for a ‘dole’ of bread and cheese on Easter Monday. This gift is in memory of Elisa and Mary Chalkhurst, who were Siamese twins joined together at the back by two ligaments and who lived in the twelfth century. At their death, within six hours of each other after a life of thirty-four years, they left lands to the parish, the rents from which were to be used to provide a dole of bread and cheese ever Easter for the poor and needy.
At Hallaton in Leicestershire there is another peculiar observance called ‘The Hare Scramble and Bottle Kicking’. The origin of the scramble isn’t known, but the reference to the hare marks it as pre-Christian. Old tales spoke of hares running to Rome to fetch the eggs and there was in centuries past a game in which the Easter hare, or ‘Bunny’ was said to have hidden eggs about the house for the children to find, hence the egg hunts of today. These games are now blessed by the Church, and many of these activities now begin in parish churches and their graveyards. The Hallaton Hare Scramble also starts in the parish church where hare pie is cut up and distributed.
The remains of the pie are then taken up Hare Pie Hill to be scrambled over the ground. Then follows a boistrous game in which the youth of Hallaton struggle with those from neighbouring Medbourne to carry bottles of beer into each other’s parishes, the boundary being a brook. Easter Monday then ends with whole-village celebrations. Nowadays, the Bank Holiday Monday is, more generally, a time for professional sports’ matches as well of all kinds of more local fun and games.
Christians today accept without any reservations the gospel stories of the Resurrection, but in the very early days there was no ‘Biblical’ record to go by, and Jesus was barely known outside Palestine, if at all. His disciples were still struggling to have him accepted as Messiah by Jewish communities in Palestine and elsewhere. This startling incident therefore divided opinion still further, and it is therefore hardly surprising that it was not until two years later that it began to be written down. Just as the account of the Last Supper was written down for the Communion Service, the earliest written accounts of the Resurrection were written down for the sacrament of Baptism, as Paul reports in 1 Corinthians 15.
The Drama began to unfold with the hurry to get Jesus buried on the eve of the Passover Sabbath, and it develops with the evening walk to Emmaus on the Sunday. So, although we think of the Resurrection taking place on the third day, the events take place in a time-span of, at most, 48 hours, with most of the witnessed and reported events occurring in the final twelve of these. Joseph and Nicodemus lacked the time to properly anoint the body and dress it according to the burial customs of the day. Common sense tells us that Joseph would not have allowed Jesus’ body to remain in the ghastly state it was when lowered from the cross, bloody, sweaty, grimy and torn.
But he had no time to do anything more than wrap the spices in the linen shroud, ready for later embalming by the women. They rolled the heavy stone across the entrance partly to keep the body cool, but also perhaps because they feared that Annas and Caiaphas might arrange to have the body stolen and buried it in the common grave for common criminals.
It is often remarked that whereas Christmas is an all-day festival, Easter is essentially a morning event. However, apart from Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalen, recorded only in John’s gospel, the other appearances began in the evening. The walkers to Emmaus were at pains to point out that although some of the disciples, especially the women who ‘had a vision of angels’, believed that Jesus was risen, none of the disciples had yet seen him. It was not, initially, in his ‘physical appearance’ that they recognise their Lord, but in his words on the road and in the simple act of the breaking of bread. With the latter, comes a moment of revelation. ‘Wasn’t it like a fire burning in us when he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’ they asked each other.
On rapidly retracing their steps to Jerusalem, they found the disciples already celebrating his appearance to Simon Peter. It is then that the refrain ‘He is risen indeed!’ develops. In other words, it has happened, we have met him! There is no longer any doubt or confusion. At that point, Jesus appears to all of them, not a ghost, but real flesh, blood and bones, even eating fish with them, just as in Galilee! Sorrow had turned to deep, almost uncontrollable joy and triumph in the space of twelve hours beginning with a mysterious disappearance and ending with a series of physical and spiritual revelations. Most importantly, everything fell into place for the friends, as they saw with their burning hearts and felt an unquenchable zeal to preach the gospel to all the world
A Modern Litany of the Resurrection:
We Confess, O lord, that death is the greatest enemy in our lives. So strong that it is hard to believe that Jesus is not buried in Palestine.
The angel said ‘He is not here’
‘He has been raised again’.
We envy those who saw him face to face and feel for Thomas in his doubt. And yet we know he lives.
Jesus said, ‘Happy are they who never saw me’
‘And yet have found faith’.
In the world we know we should be bold in the Master‘s service but we find ourselves fearful and ill equipped.
Jesus said, ‘You will receive power‘
‘When the Holy Spirit comes upon you’.
We would prefer to be quiet Christians. The responsibility of making Jesus known is a heavy one.
Jesus said, ‘You shall bear witness for me’.
‘To the ends of the earth’.
We are disciples of the Lord. We commit ourselves to his service and in his risen power resolve to make him known; by the way we live and by the words we speak. For overwhelming victory is ours through him who loved us, even Jesus Christ our saviour. Amen.
(Ian D. Bunting)
- Easter Reflections: HE IS RISEN! (graceformymess.com)
- Easter/Resurrection Sunday (godsgirlz1.wordpress.com)
- The Stone (just-joey.com)
- Happy Easter (mommyhatescooking.com)
- Historical Questions About the Resurrection (Special TSP Easter Post and Podcast) (thesacredpage.com)
- Christ Is Risen! (yleadersequip.wordpress.com)
- 9 Ways to Live Easter Every Day (ablogabouthope.com)
- He’s Risen! (Easter Sunday Reflections) (markconner.typepad.com)
- Christ Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed! (sago.com)
- When Nothing Meant All (theonlywai.com)
- The Significance of Easter (thoughtsfromacatholic.wordpress.com)
- The Resurrection Story (faithculturegroup.wordpress.com)
- Easter: The Promise of Life (mormonsoprano.com)