“Let him Easter in us,
be a dayspring to the dimness of us.” INTRODUCTION
So wrote Gerard Manly Hopkins in his epic poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland, a ship was wrecked off the coast of Harwich in 1875 and in which five Franciscan nuns, fleeing persecution in Germany, were drowned. ‘Let him Easter in us’
It is such an odd use of the word, for surely ‘Easter’ is an event, not an experience; a noun not a verb. Yet, here is Hopkins inviting us to let Christ ‘Easter in us’. Yet, as someone has pointed out, it’s a great way to look at the real truth, the transforming reality of Easter for it’s about an activity, Easter, that does not apply to something we do but something ‘he’ does in us.
Let Easter get into us. Let Easter come and live where we live. Let Easter permeate our souls. Let him Easter in us, and be a dayspring to the dimness of us.
So tonight we gather, after the long rigours of Lent and Holy Week, to do just that. To let Christ ‘Easter’ in us. Not to wistfully recall a long-ago episode, affirm our faith or even to be present at this Liturgy. But to be present before the One who can Easter in our lives. To be transformed, given new life, find meaning and purpose. Isn’t that what each of us long for? What we really want? To know Easter in us?
Poetry, of course, takes us to places that prose cannot. It is a way of painting with words and, like any painting it looses something when you try to explain its meaning. Its power lies in its effects in the soul. It’s the difference between the women we heard of in tonight’s gospel who fled in terror from the tomb because they couldn’t understand what had happened, and Mary Magdalene (whom we shall hear about tomorrow). She returned alone and encountered the risen Christ who forbade her to touch him: she needed to take that encounter to heart, not to make sense of it.
St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans hints at something similar: ‘For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.’ (6:5)
Hopkins reflects that same faith in fewer words: ‘Let Him … be a dayspring to the dimness in us.’
So, here we stand like Mary Magdalene before the mystery at the heart of our Faith, a Faith that is not focussed on the way we should live, or on the quality of life; not on creating a particular social order or helping people deal with pain and sickness. Though it involves all of that and more. Rather, ours is a faith that is centred on the death and resurrection of Jesus.
It asks you and I to stand before that one event (for the two are one, though separated in time) and gaze upon it with loving eyes in the belief that that which you desire, upon which you set your heart, will change you. ‘Let him Easter in us.’
BAPTISED INTO LIFE IN CHRIST
Tonight we celebrate with symbols that can speak to us about life: fire and light; bread and wine. We are to encounter them as Mary Magdalene encountered Christ: not seeking to understand their meaning but letting them speak into the heart. And one symbol, in particular, that carries so much. Water. Water to wash and cleanse, to refresh and enjoy. But water that also kills - and restores to life. It is the ocean of birth and the river of death. Hopkins was moved by the drowning of those five Franciscan nuns. But he understood this death to be the fulfilment of baptism into new life: their rebirth into Christ:
Now burn, new born to the world,
The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled
Mid-numbered He in three of the thunder-throne!
Hopkins saw in this wrecked ship the lot of a world gone astray. He compares it with the ark of salvation, the bark in which we are saved. He saw in this water the womb of Mary and the birth of Christ, and beneath the waters of death he saw the ground of our being – the ‘granite of God’.
Tonight we shall affirm our own faith in Christ as water is poured out over (him and) us. None of us is immune to the ravages of existence. Sometimes we can feel as if we, too, are drowning. There will be moments, maybe days or weeks, when everything is dark and it seems as if the storms of life will never pass. That is when we need to hold fast in Christ.
At other times, at times when there is calm, we need to make sure that that which holds and carries us, the faith which we profess, the hope which we have and the love which holds us in His hands has the focus in our attention. And there will be moments when we just need to bask in the sun of God: ‘Let Him Easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness in us.’
So let us live as Easter people! Let us live the faith we profess tonight: Christ is risen. And “… if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rms. 8:5)
For This is the night when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.
This is the night when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.
This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.
Christ is risen, and hell is cast down!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns in freedom!
Christ is risen, and the grave is emptied of the dead!
So, let him Easter in us who stand in his presence and
gaze upon him, not seeking to hold him but, rather, to be held in him who is our life and who offers us Easter.