‘But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ John 20:11-13
As the women came to the garden they heard the song of the birds, and what was that other strange note? With stifled laughter mixed in?? . . . but no . . .
One of the ‘joys’ of parish work in the rural North of England was the friendships I developed with our local funeral directors. Often people who had grown up in what was a family business, they brought a necessary almost medieval earthiness to their work. Of course such grace notes are less and less in demand in these mechanised days, but many of the older rural folk still see and hear things the modern world hasn’t blocked from our imaginative existence.
One director in particular had a ‘naughty’ habit which it took me a few funerals to get used to, not least because cremation was not yet, it being a rural community, the Way of Things. On those less frequent occasions the director in question would give me a lift, driving with the hearse to the crem, with the family cars in close attendance. The man, for man he is, was meticulous in public, and upon leaving the hearse walked with a steady and dignified gait and solemn countenance, tall hat with grey scarf in hand, to open the car door for the chief mourners – leaving the Priest, to whom he had just told the most wicked joke, creased up and desperately trying to compose himself for the business of also facing the family and the liturgy of the committal.
I couldn’t help think of my friend this morning as we sat in the Church in darkness, waiting for the dawn and the Liturgy of Light as we bring the newly lit paschal Candle into the building for another year. Sat in the darkness as we listen to readings from scripture – one priest to the left of the as yet unlit candle, one to the right – one at either end, sitting where just a day or so earlier a cross had been . . . and there rising up from my hungry belly, only just supressed, a burp . . .
And I wondered, that first Easter morning, was there perhaps a suppressed burp? Did one of the angels with a redeemed ‘wicked’ sense of humour tell a joke, were the angels laughing? Before those solemn moments?? ‘Quick! pull yourself together, they’re here!!’
For after all, they knew, what is more that had always known. This was The Moment in the temporary Created history when that which had always been true, would be manifested amongst mortals. Something beyond their ken, yet always present.
The association of angels and young children is an old and rightly treasured one, for it reminds us that ‘Heaven’, or life with God is Jovial, full of Joy and gladness, of happiness and delight and, if it is human at all, laughter! And one cannot but imagine these two angels, like children, in the Garden, full of Joy at the Revealing of something they have always known, that the Lamb slain since before the foundation of the world, has trampled down death by death . . . They unbound by time weren’t waiting for it to happen, there had never been a time when it wasn’t true, but Now Everyone was going to be let in on it – I doubt they could contain themselves
‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ For those who have not been let in on the great Story, for those who do not See, seems like a ludicrous question, but in the Presence of the One who is Life perhaps Not . . .
Time for laughter – Time for joy, for Christ is Risen!!!!
(and time for a bacon buttie . . .)