The Dean’s Verger and I both gave up alcohol for Lent. Many of you I am sure may have also taken on this discipline, or given up something else, perhaps chocolate, sweets, smoking, television or, as I know one person in the congregation here this evening has done, given up grumbling.
Now Mr Lewis and I have had an ongoing disagreement throughout Lent as to precisely how this discipline of giving things up works. I follow the traditional Catholic practice which suggests that as all Sundays are Feasts of the Resurrection, even those of Lent, you can’t fast on a Sunday. He claims that there’s no point in giving things up if you fall back into your old ways every seventh day, so he’s done the whole whack, even though that adds up to forty-six days and not forty, if you include the Sundays. I think that there are forty days and forty nights of Lent, not forty-six. He thinks I am a lightweight. I think he is innumerate.
Never the less, we have all navigated another Lent and Holy Week, and here we are on Easter Day. The great day of resurrection. The candle has been lit, the tomb stone is rolled away and what was on Friday a barren and intimidating Garden of desolation and grief, is transformed before our eyes into a place of new life, and hope, and joy.
The fasting is over, so let the Feasting begin. And wiser and holier people than me have preached already today on this glorious day, in which five people have been baptised in this place, twenty have been confirmed, some seven hundred have made their communion and the roof has rung with cries of Alleluia for the first time for many long weeks.
I want only to make one point this evening, before we allow Stanford’s great Te Deum to do the rest. And my point is this. Don’t stop Feasting! We’re jolly good, in the Church of England, at the misery. We do that really well. We are less good at the joy. And perhaps that’s a reflection of our famous western reserve, or it’s got to do with something else. But whether or not you calculate Lent at forty days, like me, or forty six days, like Mr Lewis, the really important thing to remember is that Eastertide is longer! We Feast for longer than we fast. That’s the point. That’s the theological heart of the whole thing. We don’t get to the end of our long Lenten journey, have a blaze of glory, and then go back to normal. There is no more normal!
We keep Easter for longer than Lent. In this cathedral the Easter Garden will stand there for fifty days. Nor forty, not forty-six, fifty. Longer than Lent. And really we ought never to take it down, because on Easter day we recognise, year by year, that on the day of resurrection everything changes, normal is entirely redefined, because the old has passed away and everything has changed. Canon Sarah said a prayer on Good Friday which reminded us that what was thrown down has been rebuilt, and what had become old is made new, and all things are returning to perfection. Perhaps there we find the message for a world which seems very often too full of pain, misery and trial: of massacres, suicide plane crashes, of famine and war, and full, also, of the smaller-scale but no less significant personal tragedies of our own lives. Let us be clear – on Easter Day everything becomes shot through with glory. On Easter Day frightened men and women come face to face with their Lord. On Easter day cloths wrapped tightly around a dead body are laid aside, and a great cold stone sealed by professional soldiers submits not to the strength of arms, but to the power of love. On Easter Day a dead man walks again, and heaven pours into the earth, and the confused and sinful and weak find a new citizenship as the family of God, and the people of the resurrection.
Don’t stop feasting. Keep going, for now is the victory, now is the risen Lord walks with you, reaches out his hand to you to lift you up, and we are an Easter people and “Alleluia” is our song.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!