The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Easter Sunday Evening Prayer on Zoom      12th April 2020
'Love is strong as death'
Ayla Lepine

Song of Solomon 3.2-5; 8.6-7
Revelation 1.12-18
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
In mid-twentieth-century New York, a woman with a fierce faith and strong devotion to supporting the city’s poorest people decided to look back on her life. She wrote a book called The Long Loneliness, in which she tried to explain why she’d been drawn to Christianity, why she wanted to be alongside the most despised and vulnerable in her city, and why she needed to write about it. A journalist who rolled her sleeves up not just to type and file copy but to open her door and her arms wide to those who had nowhere else to go, Dorothy Day is a model for us all. She had a gift which did not necessarily mark her out for grand heroism, but for a dynamic self-awareness. This led her into honest truths about herself. Her need for God, her self-questioning about whether helping people was truly serving them or fulfilling a need to be needed, and her desire to give people everything she could, perhaps too much sometimes.
When she was young, she was part of the suffrage movement and her activism got her arrested. In prison for 30 days in 1917, she began a hunger strike. While starving, she asked for a Bible and began to read the Psalms. She began to be curious and couldn’t explain why, trying to justify her curiosity as an intellectual exercise, or simply a way to stave off the physical hunger. It was a spiritual hunger too, she later understood. She said she had ‘the sense of coming back to something of my childhood that I had lost…Yet all the while I read, my pride was fighting on. I did not want to go to God in defeat and sorrow. I did not want to depend on Him. I was like the child that wants to walk by itself, I kept brushing away the hand that held me up. I tried to persuade myself that I was reading for literary enjoyment. But the words kept echoing in my heart. I prayed and I did not know I prayed.’
We are, in our different ways, praying all the time, even though we, as Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, are learning to walk in the dark. The light of Christ is with us. It is the lit candles and Easter gardens at home, the ache we feel at not being able to gather in church, the signs of Spring, irrepressible around us, and the determination to sew PPE masks, homeschool children as best as possible, deliver babies, wash hands while slowly reciting the Lord’s Prayer, hide Easter eggs all over the place, set up a Zoom meeting with family far away, bring foodbank donations to the vicarage door, join a service on Facebook, and on it goes. It’s undeniable that we are in a dark time. How can the Easter resurrection be real when the sick and the dying have reached numbers beyond comprehension and we can’t even comfort one another with a tender hug or a simple handshake?
Perhaps it’s not enough for Christians to tell each other, with all our hearts, that it is real. Perhaps that is enough. Either way, no matter what the world’s pain is forcing upon us all, the resurrection is real. Nothing and no one can stop Christ’s gift of love. We choose to accept the gift, and choose to live as though it really is true. This is no intellectual exercise, but it is the spiritual muscles of the heart. We pulse with the Spirit of God’s love, and Easter tells us that nothing can take this heartbeat from within us. In Revelation, the radiant light-filled Christ addresses the worshipper with a simple message. It is a message for us: Do not be afraid. Because Christ is alive, the fear that bites at us and makes our joy ring hollow in the face of so much suffering…that fear has already been transformed by love. In the Song of Solomon, a lover says to her beloved, ‘set me as a seal upon your heart…for love is strong as death.’ Imagine Christ saying that to you, deep in your core. Imagine you are saying it to God, inviting God’s love into your whole being. Imagine you are saying it to the whole of creation, and to each person in this aching world. When we inhabit this, even a little, the fresh garden of new life is pushing its tender shoots up into the sunlight. Whether we feel it or not, the resurrection is real. We are not walking by ourselves.  

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