There are many things I am missing today.
I am missing – if you can believe it or not – the exhaustion that comes at the end of a normal Holy Week which ordinarily today gets turbo-charged by the early alarm call for our traditional dawn service. Today am I feeling rested and alert, and as such, am missing the fact that I am not feeling exhausted.
I am missing the little things that fill an Easter morning in Church – the singing of hymns, the smell of a Church infused with the scent of fresh flowers. I am missing leading and presiding at the Easter Communion. I am missing seeing you all.
This is a strange Easter – you don’t need me to tell you that – and it is strange because of what is not there.
There are no flowers, no bells, no churches welcoming friends old and new across their thresholds.
There are no guests – welcome or not – for Easter lunch. There are no journeys to family, no Easter Egg hunts around the Church Yard.
This is a strange Easter because of what is not there.
This is painful and disorientating, but should it be a surprise?
At the centre of our Gospel reading we hear words which should ring true for us this Easter more than any other.
The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he is risen.’
At the heart of the Easter story is an absence. At the heart of this story we find that someone we are looking for is not where we expect them to be. The authorities thought they had dealt with a troublesome criminal only to find that he was not dealt with and finished in his forgotten grave – because he is risen. The women who came to tend to this forgotten grave found that their task of tender grief and care was not needed - because he is risen. On that first Easter morning Jesus was not where people expected to find him. He was up making and renewing the world with the power of God’s grace - because he is risen.
At the heart of this story, at the heart of this day, at the heart of the new creation and new world God calls us to be part of is an absence, a space created by Jesus moving ahead of us from where we expect or want him to be, to where we need him to be - because he is risen.
The poetry of the Welsh priest-poet R.S. Thomas is infused with this sense of absence, of God moving ahead of us, urging us to follow.
This is his poem Resurrection
Easter. The grave clothes of winter
are still here, but the sepulchre
is empty. A messenger
from the tomb tells us
how a stone has been rolled
from the mind, and a tree lightens
the darkness with its blossom.
There are travellers upon the road
who have heard music blown
from a bare bough, and a child
tells us how the accident
of last year, a machine stranded
beside the way for lack
of petrol, is crowned with flowers.
What Thomas’ beguiling poem reminds us is that the power of God’s grace revealed to us today does not reside where we expect it to be, or even always where we want it to be. The power of God’s grace moves ahead of us revealing in the simplest and most profound of things – the blossom on a dark branch, the music of the wind, the unexpected beauty of a broken thing – the power of God’s grace to change and transform the world.
In this strange Easter, and in the absences of this day, it is natural that we approach it with some sadness. But in this sorrow we should also find hope. In this strange Eastertide we should perceive in these absences, in these spaces in our world, the movement of our risen Lord ahead of us.
As we move through this Easter season, in this strange season for the life our community and nation and world, we are called to look in those absences for those glimpses of where God is working and follow.
If we have found ourselves praying more through this crisis, then God is calling us to deepen that life of prayer into the future.
If we have spoken more often and more deeply with friends and family over these last few weeks than for an age, then God is calling us to build on these new connections and new communities we have found in this season.
If we have learnt through this crisis to cherish those people and tasks we take for granted in our world, then God is calling us all to build a world where the humble and lowly, and not the mighty, are lifted high.
At some point things will, as we continue to reassure ourselves, get back to normal, and that will be a blessing. But as we find again these things we have been missing we also need not to loose sight of the absences we have discovered, the spaces that have opened for us, the paths we have been invited to follow through the new creation God is setting before us. Because at Easter, and this Easter more than ever, we discover that God is not where we expect him to be, or want him to be. God is ahead of us, calling us to follow into strange and wonderful and new places, because he is not here, he is risen.