Easter in Mondays

I remember, some years ago reading a very fine book by Nicolas Lash entitled “Easter in Ordinary,” which referenced “heaven in ordinary” from a poem by George Herbert (entitled “Prayer (I)”). The point of the book and poem both was that Easter shaped experiences of grace sometimes surprise us in the seasons named “ordinary.” For those not conversant in church-speak, those are the times of the year not dedicated to seasons such as Christmas, Easter, Lent etc. Seasons ordinary are exactly that, and so the poet points to the surprising character of Easter insights in ordinary time.

I have always been a fan of ordinary time, but even more so a fan of ambiguous time. “Ambiguous time” is not a liturgical designation, and as far as I am aware, is a term I have invented. I will happily hear of evidence to the contrary. At any rate, ambiguous time points to those days not quite ordinary, but neither extra-ordinary. I think, in particular, of Boxing Day, or Easter Monday. These are days that live in the shadow of the big days, and so seem even less ordinary than ordinary time, which has taken some distance from High, Holy Days. In a way, Easter Monday, is exceptionally ordinary to the extent that it stands back so that Easter might have its full sway.

But for foragers of the divine in the rough, Mondays such as this – and in fact all Mondays as the day after Sundays, which are known liturgically as a little Easters – are rich in retrospect and relief. Retrospect because such days are days set aside to mull over what occurred the day before, and relief (as in rest but also in the artistic sense of the word, that is something cut away so that something else comes to the fore) because these are days that step back so that Sundays shine, and Easter Sunday in particular.

What was this Easter Monday for me? This Easter Sunday gave me the second opportunity in a two years to spend the Easter weekend with one of my daughters in their towns: last year in Halifax and this year in Ottawa. Easter was doubly out of the ordinary, then, giving me occasion to experience worship in a different church, meals at different tables, and yet a familiar joy at the narrative of new life and the hymnody of deep and abiding hope.

Easter Monday, by contrast, was spent back at home and doubly ordinary – allowing me to recall that the gift of being outside my familiar surroundings long enough to appreciate them, and short enough to pine for these days away to return. Easter Monday was not quite sorrowful, yet wistful in a good way; that is, it announced a longing for such days to return in times ordinary as well. Easter Monday, it seems, gave me and gives us just enough distance from Easter Sunday to remember that it was gift, and yet there is an equally profound gift in Mondays themselves, in that they serve as a bridge to the week by providing a little distance, a little space, a little bit of ordinary mixed in with their holy to make it possible to be in awe that the Word made flesh can be heard well in the vernacular and in ambiguous times.

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In Praise of Easter Monday

After the Triduum with all of its drama and busyness, I have a kind of affinity to Easter Monday. Perhaps it is rooted in my earlier experiences as a parish pastor. Lent was always an astonishingly busy time with the three days, culminating in Easter, especially intense. The Monday after all that action was itself a kind of resurrection for me. This pastor slept in, read the paper, lingered over his coffee, and played with his daughters. Easter was rich, but Easter Monday was sweet. Easter is experienced differently for me now that teaching rather than preaching is the primary shape of my ministry. But still, there is something special about Easter Monday.

In a way, this is a day that is a shadow, or a ripple, or an echo of the day before. It is a softer, simpler version of an event so big that words cannot exhaust it. Monday is not quite so potent, and yet it drips with the after-glow of the resurrection. It is a next day event, when the consequences of a cataclysmic happening begin to sink in and now this experience becomes mine. It is fitting that the lectionary for Easter Sunday Evening (which in biblical accounting of time is already the next day) includes:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. (Isaiah 25:6)

I love the sensual quality of this text. When God spins the world around and we encounter it upside down our senses themselves are bowled over with feast, with drink, with excess. We need to take a breath to take it all in. On Easter Monday we digest Sunday’s excess. In due course we see it as a kind of surplus that is given for the sake of giving. We are filled to over-flowing for the good of all peoples. Easter Monday is a good day to ask ourselves how we might be food for the nations, drink for all peoples, justice for the lowest and righteousness for those imprisoned. Easter Monday is a day to take it home; to imagine that hope has taken up residence in me, in us, in the world.

I have made no special plans for this particular Easter Monday. Marking, above all else, makes a claim on me today. But I will make a special effort to listen to the echo of “Christ is risen”; an echo that has been massaged by the hills to sound just a little like “Allen is risen.” And the familiar refrain “He is risen indeed!” might approximate “He is risen in deed!”

May it be so.

Eastering Tree

A beauty so severe

it winds me: I expire at

the sight of spring budding on

this Eastering tree – afraid to inhale,

I tarry ‘twixt the to and fro of breath.

 

This arboreal poem drips with

artistry as sap bleeds

new life into each fetal leaf, roots

raising earth’s riches to trunk, to crown holding forth

the promise of shade,

of oxygenation:

counter pointing carbon.

 

This hymn to hope

empties me of myself and so

fortifies my knowing

that this moment need not be

bested, this being arrested

by new life pulsing from tomb to womb

to the room I find on this day

beneath boreal arms in prayer, bearing

witness to Easter’s pledge.

Dark, this day

Dark, this day of his descending as
his heart – Kristallnacht scarred – heaves
even while we attempt to keel evil,
to position the passion while he,
he slips into the dark
to take darkness into himself.

Light beckons but for now, now he
descends all the way down
to be beside the despised,
to sit awhile with widows, with waifs,
to wander with those who make a home of wandering
aimlessly, wordlessly, yet now with the Word.