John 19: 38-end
St John’s Gospel, chapter 19, verse 41: ‘Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid.’
Easter Eve is, normally for most people, a day of shopping and preparation for Easter Day and a family gathering, though this year the instruction is “shop for essentials, and do not travel”, and, when we hear the news and the continuing spread of coronavirus, it is clear, we shall have a much quieter Swanage and Studland Easter than we would otherwise have expected.
Church decorating is another task undertaken on this Saturday. Again, it will not happen this year, but the flowers are in hedgerow and garden and park. The smell of daffodils and lilies and the sight of the predominantly white and yellow flowers of early spring is a sign of the new life proclaimed at Easter right across Britain. Normally, with this gradual change in the world around us, we achieve the dramatic and sudden change from a barren church on Good Friday to the glories of Easter in a symbolic way of showing what is happening liturgically and, in some measure, within us. I use, ‘in some measure’ advisedly, for to mentally and spiritually part from Good Friday, with the sorrow of the suffering and death of Jesus, and then to embrace fully the joy of Easter is a transition that is not easy to make in less than forty-eight hours.
Today is a day that helps the process of transition, for it is, liturgically, an interim day. In those churches, such as St Mary’s here in Swanage, holding an Easter Vigil service, with a fire burning brightly outside the main church door before symbolically carrying, as a glowing candle in the gloom, the light of Christ into the church on the eve of the Sunday, there is the reaffirmation of the centrality of the Crucifixion of our Lord, to its miraculous conclusion through reading and prayer and song – to the Resurrection; to what every Christian clings: ‘He is risen, Alleluia!’
Christ’s body is laid in a tomb, as the Synoptic Gospels record, that had been ‘hewn out of the rock’. St John describes it as merely, a ‘new tomb’ in ‘the garden’, but emphasises the lavishness of even this, probably temporary, burial: a huge weight of spices, a linen shroud, a private garden and a new tomb. the women were to return after the Sabbath, but in the meantime, the body of Jesus lay in this garden tomb with the amazing event of the resurrection awaiting a world unprepared for such a miracle.
That sense of expectation that we have on Easter Eve can be imagined, in a slightly different way, when we consider that even at this moment, the disciples and the women, who were with Jesus, had no anticipation that life was about to change for them forever, even though Jesus had warned them! We wait today with prior knowledge of exactly how things were to be and so can be better prepared, but we have still to turn the ‘story’ of the Resurrection into an actual, a heart-changing reality in our thinking and prayer – to know in faith and love, the risen Lord within us. so let us sleep well tonight and be ready to joyfully sing ‘alleluia’ tomorrow!