Tag Archives: Easter

An Old Easter Fable


Mykola Pymonenko, “Easter morning” (1891)

Having looked at what Easter is not about last week (during the Catholic/Protestant observation), the following story about rebirth, renewal, and repentance offers a self-critical corrective. It too comes from the 1916 edition of Werner’s Readings and Recitations, the “Easter Celebrations” volume. The story itself is by Annie Hamilton Donnell.

Father’s Easter Sermon

“Today, father?”

“Yes, Plumy, why not? If you don’t feel able to go, I can go alone. Only I should miss my congregation sorely—it’s hard preaching to an empty church!”

The pale little woman smiled bravely. She got to her feet and crossed the room to the-stooping old figure at the desk.

“You shall have your ‘congregation,’ father,” she said. “Is it almost done—the sermon?”

“Yes, almost done, Plumy; I have tried to make it clear and strong.” She got his cane and hat and her own things. Then the old couple went out into the street. It was a beautiful day, with joyous thrill of waking life.

“You ain’t getting tired, are you, Plumy?”

“Tired, father? Why, you talk as if I was old!” smiled Plumy. She had her hand on his faded broadcloth sleeve and tried to lighten its weight. They had walked to church arm in arm for forty years.

In Mrs. Ronald Smythe’s bay window an animated discussion was in progress. Mrs. Ronald Smythe “ran” the little Elmwood church.

“We must have any amount of flowers—mountains and seas of them!” she was saying. “I want this to be a red-letter Easter at our church. It will encourage our new minister. See, there go old Parson Sledd and his little shadow of a wife. VVhat a queer couple they make! Where do you suppose they go together every week?”

“To church,” Mrs. Elsie said. “I’ve seen them going in. The door is always open, you know.”

“Yes, that’s where they go, all right,” chimed in big Mrs. Pingree, “they usually stay an hour or more.”

“These broken-down ministers who’ve lived out their day!” sighed Mrs. Elsie.

“Yes, it’s a problem what’s to be done with them, isn’t it? Somebody—who is it?—asks if they shall be shot!”

The three ladies broke into laughter. Then the talk went back to the Easter preparations and the flowers. Ten years ago Lemuel Sledd had been quietly dropped from his pulpit, to make place for a younger man.

Mrs. Ronald Smythe handled the reins of church government. The following week was a busy one for her. On Friday afternoon she went down to the church with Mrs. Elsie and Mrs. Pingree to plan for the floral display. At the church door they suddenly paused.

“It’s the old parson; shh! He’s preaching,” she whispered. “Don’t either of you make a sound. It will be as good as a play to hear him!” They stood in the shadow of the gallery and listened.

“It’s an Easter sermon!” tittered Mrs. Elsie. Out in the great dim church sat “father’s” little “congregation,” listening breathlessly. A single lily reared its slender stalk from an old-fashioned vase on the pulpit. The quivery old voice steadied and grew strong. It filled the empty church. The bent figure straightened, and “father’s” face was beautiful in the afternoon light.

It was a wonderful sermon preached in the empty church that spring afternoon. The three women in the shadow of the gallery heard it with sobered, wondering faces. The earnestness in it appealed to them where the thoughtfulness penetrated beyond their shallower depths. They sank into seats and sat with folded hands, listening.

After the sermon “father” prayed. “Gracious Lord, Thou risen One, have mercy on Thy servant. Give him of the patience that kept Thee patient. Let him be willing to stand aside while Thy younger servants serve Thee. It is hard, gracious Lord, it is hard to grow old! Thy servant would have liked to die in the harness, his soul longs for one more chance to preach Thee to Thy people in this Thy house. Give him Thy patience, Lord!”

Then the two old voices quivered into song together. “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.” Then, in a hush broken only by the distant call of a robin to her mate, “father” pronounced the benediction. “Be and abide with you all. Amen.” The three women under the gallery shrank back out of sight as the two old people went out.

Mrs. Ronald Smythe suddenly said, “I want to see the new minister about something.”

“Oh, well, tell him to do his best!” cried Mrs. Elsie. “No common sermon will do—now.”

“No,” Mrs. Pingree murmured, “not now.”

The young minister rose from his desk as Mrs. Smythe was ushered in. “Sit down and write it for me,’Mrs. Smythe,” he laughed boyishly.

“We won’t either of us write IL’: she smiled; “it was that came for. There is a minister—our old rninister—I want you to invite him to preach our Easter sermon to us. I have heard it; it will be a beautiful sermon.”

The old minister preached the Easter sermon in the Elmwood church. There were Easter flowers all about him. His white head seemed uplifted above a sea of them. There was Easter song in his ears as he sat in the pulpit with folded hands. Among the listening faces that filled the great room, row on row, was one that shone like a face transfigured. It was the face of “father’s congregation.”

“Dear Lord, dear Lord, I thank Thee for this day!” prayed Plumy, silently. “It’s the best day of all! Dear Lord, it’s most as if father and I had risen from the dead to-day with Thy dear Son.”

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Be Brave This Easter

Here’s a tongue-in-cheek reminder to stay focused on the important part of Easter, the risen savior. This poem comes from the 1916 edition of Werner’s Readings and Recitations, the “Easter Celebrations” volume.

Wore Last Year's Hat

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Rejoicing on Pasca

Hallelujah! Christ is risen!

I love Easter. I love it more when the Christian community, East and West, by delightful coincidence happens to be celebrating it on the same day, but on years like this, when they don’t, I do my best to look at the silver lining: I get twice as many resurrected Christs. My intent had been to share another passage from John of Sinai today, but he has nothing very pleasant to say about Easter.

The gluttonous monk…counts the days to Easter, and for days in advance he gets the food ready. The slave of his belly ponders the menu with which to celebrate the feast. The servant of God, however, thinks of the graces that may enrich him.

Joy and consolation descend on the perfect when they reach the state of complete detachment. The warrior monk enjoys the heat of battle, but the slave of passion revels in the celebrations of Easter. In his heart, the glutton dreams only of food and provisions whereas all who have the gift of mourning think only of judgment and of punishment.

Well, I’m not a warrior monk, and I left my mourning on Great and Holy Saturday where it belongs. I suppose there is a reason why John of Sinai is standard Lenten reading for the Orthodox and not standard Easter reading. Though I admit the possibility that this is duplicitous of me, and I’m sure John of Sinai would accuse me of just that, but I’d like to think that I can think both of the physical feast and of the spiritual feast afforded by the resurrection. In fact, I rather like to believe that the two are related. With sacramental flavor, the feasts of holy days are intended to make tangible to our bodies and minds–more accustomed and attuned to the immediacy of physical stimuli than spiritual ones–the great joy which we have received from God. Today being the remembrance of that consummate joy of Christian existence, I intend to make that as holistic an experience as possible, letting my body partake of the joy of my heart, and vice versa. I can only hope that God consecrates that effort rather, and I don’t run headlong into gluttony and dissipation.

On that note, happy Easter everyone (even those of you who thought Easter was more than a month ago).

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The New Pope on Easter

Most people are getting a little weary of hearing about Pope Francis. (I’m not; I’m getting weary of people complaining about how much they are talking about him.) Whose feet is he washing? What did he say about gay marriage? Is he talking to Kirill? How significant is his provenance? His order? His papal name? Etc. It is easy to forget in all this interpretive tumult that the pope is still the spiritual icon for one seventh of the world’s population, one who has a message that is not hidden beneath layers of ambiguous action and mysterious origin. He offers these wonderful thoughts for the Easter Vigil:

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! Are we often weary, disheartened and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.

Here is the essence of Easter, distilled and repackaged to meet the world’s needs in this moment. The conquest over death is not merely a soteriological mechanism but a testimony to the efficacy of divine action. There is no recession that is more destructive than death, no sorrow which can match its permanence, no wound which can mirror its absoluteness. It is the content of our greatest tragedies and the aim and consequence of our most viscous sins. Yet God took it and transformed it, not into something marginally less terrible but into life itself. It is precisely because of this confidence display of power that we can turn to salvation, that we can expect our own deaths–the individual and the corporate deaths, the physical and the existential deaths–to be transformed ultimately into the eternal life promised for those who love him. In a world acutely aware of its own sufferings and dogged by its own perpetual inability to cure them through its chosen devices, the pope has echoed the psalmist who finds in the fidelity and potency of God the redemptive power of hope: “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.”

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Once upon a time, I believed reaching one hundred posts was a momentous occasion, one so memorable that I would want to do something, for myself, to mark it.  The commemoration has become a personal tradition, and so, on this my four hundredth post, I offer you once again my favorite ten quotes from the previous ninety-nine posts.

10) An interview on Talking Philosophy with Alain de Botton proved to be my most interesting interaction with any atheist thinkers in the past hundred posts.  His thoughts pointed to dangers in atheistic thinking and proposed, in deliberate critique of New Atheists, various senses in which religion was a good thing, even as an atheist.  From Leading Atheist on What’s Wrong with Atheism:

Attempting to prove the non-existence of god can be entertaining…Though this exercise has its satisfactions, the real issue is not whether god exists or not, but where one takes the argument to once one decides that he evidently doesn’t. The premise of my book is that it must be possible to remain a committed atheist and nevertheless to find religions sporadically useful, interesting and consoling – and be curious as to the possibilities of importing certain of their ideas and practices into the secular realm.

9) I am deeply enamored of the thought of Eugene Genovese, a fact which will probably become evident over the next few weeks.  In a criticism of southern support for American imperialism, I quoted Genovese, among others, to demonstrate the hypocrisy of Imperialism in the Imperialized South:

The history of the Old South is now often taught at leading universities, when it is taught at all, as a prolonged guilt-trip, not to say a prologue to the history of Nazi Germany…To speak positively about any part of this southern tradition is to invite charges of being a racist and an apologist for slavery and segregation. We are witnessing a cultural and political atrocity – an increasingly successful campaign by the media and an academic elite to strip young white southerners and arguably black southerners as well, of their heritage, and, therefore, their identity.

8) Of the critical series I have written in this cycle, the one I most enjoyed researching and producing was my exposition of complementarianism in response to Roger Olson.  The great quote, on the other hand, likely came from the Founding Father’s series.  In Illusions of Innocence, I applied Richard T. Hughes and Leonerd Allen’s thesis about primitivism in American Protestantism and applied it to American political primitivism.  To conclude, I quoted their evaluation of Roger Williams primitivist thought, a historically unsustainable but ideologically more appealing variety:

For Williams, the radical finitude of human existence, entailing inevitable failures in understanding and action, makes restoration of necessity an open-ended concept. The absolute, universal ideal existed for Williams without question. But the gap between the universal and the particular, between the absolute and the finite, was so great that it precluded any one-on-one identification of the particular with the universal…the best one could do was approximate the universal, an approximation that occurred only through a diligent search for truth.

7) Though most of the series on Christianity and Jain occurred earlier, the day after the three hundredth post, I added to the comparative study Christ, Jain, and Mutual Forgiveness.  Here is some wisdom from Mahavira on the subject:

If, during the retreat, among monks or nuns occurs a quarrel or dispute or dissension, the young monk should ask forgiveness of the superior, and the superior of the young monk. They should forgive and ask forgiveness, appease and be appeased, and converse without restraint.

6) Long overdue, I finally shared a selection of quotes in The Wisdom of the Pilgrim connecting my longstanding love of fourteenth century hesychasm with a more recent text:

[O]ne of the most lamentable things is the vanity of elementary knowledge which drives people to measure the Divine by a human yardstick.

5) For Easter–that is East Easter not West Easter–I shared a few notes from the Ecumenical Patriarch about the meaning of life in Christ made possible by his death and resurrection and the destructive attempts of people to secure life apart from him.  From Christos Anesti!:

There is no need for some nations to be destroyed in order for other nations to survive. Nor is there any need to destroy defenseless human lives so that other human beings may live in greater comfort. Christ offers life to all people, on earth as in heaven. He is risen, and all those who so desire life may follow Him on the way of Resurrection. By contrast, all those who bring about death, whether indirectly or directly, believing that in this way they are prolonging or enhancing their own life, condemn themselves to eternal death.

4) Buried deep in the recesses of a response to a Fox News article, Invade Iran (et al) for Christ!, is perhaps one of my favorite short quotes from any of the early church fathers.  Here is Justin Martyr’s response to persecution:

You can kill us, but you can’t hurt us.

3) Of all the wonderful cow stories–and I had options this time around–that have been shared here throughout the years, none had me more excited than finding an archival story about Grady, the cow who got stuck in a silo and captured the imagination of a nation.  On This Day in Cow History celebrated her generations old story, and its very happy ending:

What’s in store for Grady? “Well, I believe she’s earned peace and quiet the rest of her life,” Mach [her owner] said. “She’s had more excitement than most cows.”

2) My commentary on J. W. McGarvey’s sermons offered throughout the month of his birth was littered with excellent quotes.  McGarvey was, however, perhaps most poetic and profound when he recorded his thoughts On Prayer:

If God was a God who did not hear our prayers, or care anything about our prayers, He might as well be made of ice. He is a living God; a God who has friends, and loves His friends; and this is the reason that He will do something for them when they cry to Him. Don’t think of God as mere abstraction, or as a being who keeps Himself beyond the sky; but think of Him as one who lives with you, who is round about you, who lays His hand under your head when you lie down to rest. So in praying, pray with the confidence of little children…Pray in the morning; pray at the noontide; pray when you lie down to sleep…Pray often; pray earnestly; and in order that your prayer may amount to anything, be righteous men and women.

1) The Anarchy in May series is perhaps the most fun I have ever had here, and selecting a single quote from a month of my favorite thinkers is exceedingly difficult.  More than anything, this selection from Tolstoy on Moral Culpability, is appropriate because of Tolstoy’s preeminent place in the history of anarchism:

[W]e are responsible for our own misdeeds. And the misdeeds of our rulers become our own, if we, knowing that they are misdeeds, assist in carrying, them out. Those who suppose that they are bound to obey the government, and that the responsibility for the misdeeds they commit is transferred from them to their rulers, deceive themselves.

I can only hope that the next hundred posts flow as easily and are as much fun to write as the last hundred were.

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Christos Anesti!

With all the eggs found, all the chocolate bunnies devoured, and all the peeps microwaved, most of us have allowed the resurrection of Christ to pass from our minds (if it was ever there at all). It would benefit Western Christians, however, to remember that there are still hundreds of millions of Christians around the world who are celebrating the central moment in the Christian narrative today. Let me offer, for your consideration, a selection from the paschal encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarch:

If Christ’s Resurrection referred to Himself, then its significance for us would be negligible. The Church proclaims, however, that, the Lord did not arise alone. Together with Himself, He also resurrected all people. This is how our predecessor, St. John Chrysostom, proclaims this great truth in thunderous language: “Christ is risen, and none are left dead in the grave; for in being raised from the dead, he became the first-fruits of all who were asleep.” This means that Christ became the first-fruits of the resurrection of all who have fallen asleep and who will fall asleep in the future, as well as of their transition from death to life. The message is a joyful one for us all because, with His Resurrection Christ abolished the power of death. Those who believe in Him await the resurrection of the dead and are accordingly baptized in His death, rise with Him and live on in life eternal.

The world that is alienated from Christ endeavors to amass material goods because it bases its hopes for survival on them. It unwisely imagines that it will escape death through wealth. Deceived in this way to amass wealth, supposedly to extend their present life, human beings disperse death among others, too. They deny others the financial possibility of survival, often even violently depriving others of life, in the hope of preserving their own life.

How tragic! What a huge deception. For life is only acquired through faith in Christ and incorporation in His body…This means that it is no longer necessary to search for the “fountain of immortality.” Immortality exists in Christ and is offered by Him to all.

There is no need for some nations to be destroyed in order for other nations to survive. Nor is there any need to destroy defenseless human lives so that other human beings may live in greater comfort. Christ offers life to all people, on earth as in heaven. He is risen, and all those who so desire life may follow Him on the way of Resurrection. By contrast, all those who bring about death, whether indirectly or directly, believing that in this way they are prolonging or enhancing their own life, condemn themselves to eternal death.

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John of Damascus for Easter

Come, and let us drink of that New River,
Not from barren Rock divinely poured,
But the Fount of Life that is for ever
From the Sepulchre of CHRIST the LORD.

All the world hath bright illumination,—
Heav’n and Earth and things beneath the earth:
’Tis the Festival of all Creation:
CHRIST hath ris’n, Who gave Creation birth:

Yesterday with Thee in burial lying,
Now today with Thee aris’n I rise;
Yesterday the partner of Thy dying,
With Thyself upraise me to the skies.

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John of Damascus for Holy Saturday

Into the dim earth’s lowest parts descending,
And bursting by Thy might the infernal chain
That bound the prisoners, Thou, at three days’ ending,
As Jonah from the whale, hast risen again.

Thou brakest not the seal, Thy surety’s token,
Arising from the Tomb Who left’st in Birth
The portals of Virginity unbroken,
Opening the gates of heaven to sons of earth.

Thou, Sacrifice ineffable and living,
Didst to the FATHER by Thyself atone
As GOD eternal: resurrection giving
To Adam, general parent, by Thine own.

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Gregory the Theologian for Good Friday

O Thou, the Word of truth divine!
All light I have not been,
Nor kept the day as wholly Thine;
For Thou dark spots hast seen.

The day is down: night hath prevailed:
My Lord I have belied;
I vowed, and thought to do, but failed;
My steps did somewhere slide.

There came a darkness from below
Obscuring safety’s way.
Thy light, O Christ, again bestow;
Turn darkness into day.

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Christ is risen!

Easter is always a bittersweet time for me. Just as, paradoxically, the beginning of Lent is always a happy occurrence so with Easter there is a tinge of sorrow. It marks the end of the great fast and my favorite time of year, liturgically. The various Christian bodies will go off to observe their separate traditions (or ignore tradition altogether) and the spiritual unanimity of the paschal season will be lost. This is particularly true now because it will be several years yet before the Eastern and Western Easter calendars align again like they have for the past two years.

The real bitterness, though, is in reflection on my own spiritual state at the end of the fast. Easter and its magnificence throws into sharp relief all my own short comings of the past six weeks. Every time I may have broken fast or neglected the spirit of the fast or even every time I didn’t anoint my head with oil. Recently, I had focused so much of my concern on persevering until the end, that I overlooked the startling craftiness of the devil. The real trial of fasting is not that we might grow weary of it but that we shouldn’t. In our weariness, we meet God. He has a heart for the broken, the weak, and the longing. The real snare that our enemy sets for us is arrogance, the confidence that we can persevere. We become so comfortable in our deprivation that we forget that our success depends on God or else we allow our resolve to slip into the background and begin to fill the void we have created by fasting with a substitute both for the object or behavior we are abstaining from and for the God who ought to be our satisfaction in its stead.

And yet wonderfully, mystically, beautifully therein lies the indomitable joy of Easter. It came anyway. It didn’t matter that I failed on so many levels. It didn’t matter that beneath all the apparent unity in our Christian observance there lingered seeds of discord. It didn’t matter that some didn’t fast and never fast. None of it mattered. None of our sins were ever enough to keep Christ in the grave. Before time and outside of time he knew just how pathetic I would be, but he still created me, still came for me, still died for me, and still rose then and today as a conqueror over the darkness that I am inadequate to overcome.

The veil has been torn, the stone has been rolled away, death has been swallowed up in victory, and Jesus Christ–praise to his name–is risen.

And the church said: amen.

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