When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.
Psalm 126:1
 
Mary sits outside the empty tomb. The angels have told her that Jesus is no longer there. He has risen. The words don’t compute. How could they? Jesus was the one who raised people from the dead. But he’s dead. He’s dead. Then the gardener comes and speaks her name. And the unbelievable becomes not yet believable, but somehow...true. Now what?

Preaching in front of the Easter banner, a clear blue butterfly on a background of soft white, the priest reminds us that for Mary, as well as for the rest of us, the resurrection remains a mystery. We can’t understand it. We can’t make sense of it, even as a sense of joy floods through our bodies, our minds cannot grasp what our emotions are experiencing.

How did this happen? Certainly this was a question in the minds of all who saw Jesus that Easter Sunday. But Jesus never gives an answer. At least not one that is recorded in the Gospels. It will take the disciples weeks, even years to come to an understanding of the events of Easter weekend, and to find words to describe what God was up to in the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of the God-man Christ.

The questions continue today. What happened at the cross? What does atonement really mean? These are hot topics of conversation on many blogs I follow. Pondering and answering those questions are important; they inform our attitudes and our behaviors. And getting them wrong can lead to tragedy, quenching the Spirit of love. But at best, we will only begin to understand. 
 
Several weeks before his death, Jesus heals a man who was blind from birth. After his sight is restored, the religious leaders ask him, How did this happen? You tell me, he responds, you’re the religious ones. All I know is that once I was blind, and now I see.
 
As we move into the Easter season, perhaps we should take some time to sit in the questions, to ponder the mystery. Something has happened which is incomprehensible. Many of us,  following in the steps of the risen Christ, have also undergone a metamorphosis. Like the butterfly emerging from the cocoon, we are a new creation. May we pause to wonder at our wings before we take to the skies.
 
 


Originally entitled Bright Holiday, the Russian Easter Overture  is the work of the brilliant Russian composer, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Himself an atheist, Rimsky-Korsakov based the Overture on the Obikhod, a collection of Orthodox canticles which moved through the Easter liturgy. I became acquainted with the piece during high school, when our concert band performed it for a spring concert. Experiencing firsthand the mystery and joy of the piece, I resonate with what Richard Freed, writing program notes for the National Symphony Orchestra's performance of the Overture, has to say:
 
In place of the serenity of chaste expressions of joy we encounter in Western Easter music, there is an utterly different form of exaltation here, expressed in terms of sheer vitality and visceral excitement as well as mystery and solemnity. It is a different world, ablaze with colors and lights, set off by passages of brooding darkness.

Freed goes on to quote Rimsky-Korsakov's own program notes:

This legendary and heathen side of the holiday, this transition from the gloomy and mysterious evening of Passion Saturday to the unbridled pagan-religious merry-making of Easter Sunday, is what I was eager to reproduce in my overture. . . . The rather lengthy slow introduction . . . on the theme “Let God arise” [woodwinds], alternating with the ecclesiastical melody “An angel cried out” [solo cello], appeared to me, in the beginning, as it were, the ancient prophecy of Isaiah of the Resurrection of Christ. The gloomy colors of the Andante lugubre seemed to depict the Holy Sepulchre that had shone with ineffable
light at the moment of the Resurrection—in the transition to the Allegro of the overture. The beginning of the Allegro —the theme “Let them also that hate Him flee before Him”—led to the holiday mood of the Greek Orthodox service on Christ's matins; the solemn trumpet voice of the Archangel was replaced by a tonal reproduction of the joyous, almost dancelike tolling of bells, alternating now with the sexton's rapid reading and now with the conventional chant of the priest's reading the glad tidings of the Evangel. The Obikhod theme, “Christ is arisen,” which forms a sort of subsidiary part of the overture, appears amid the trumpet blasts and the bell-tolling, constituting a triumphant coda.

As you walk through Easter weekend, may you truly experience the mystery and solemnity of this Holy celebration. And may new joy and hope rise in your soul as you affirm, "Christ is arisen."

Note: The youtube version above is performed on period pieces by the Anima Eterna Orchestra, Jos van Immerseel conducting.
 
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Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

A beautiful Easter poem by George Herbert is posted over at Better Living Through Beowulf, the blog I mentioned on Friday. I appreciate Robin's comment that Christ has always gone before us. First into human life, then into death, now into the new life that stretches before us. I also love the invitation for the Spirit to join us as we respond.