The Anglican poet George Herbert lived for only forty years, from 1593 to 1633. He was vicar of Bemerton, near Salisbury. This is one of his most famous poems, called “Easter”.
Rise, heart, thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him may'st rise:
That, as his death calcinèd thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and, much more, just.
Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art,
The cross taught all wood to resound his name
Who bore the same.
His stretchèd sinews taught all strings what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.
Consort, both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long;
Or, since all music is but three parts vied
Oh let thy blessèd Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.
The poet calls the heart to sing – to sing a song of praise that Christ is risen. Do not delay, he says; for Christ has drawn you with him into new life, the resurrection life. You had shared in his death, being trapped in sin, and thus being spiritually dead: but now his risen life makes you into gold, something, someone, most precious, most valuable in God’s eyes. But more than this – you are now made just – justified, redeemed, reconciled with God in spite of all our sin and fallibility.
Bring forth the lute, the poet adds, and let it excel in matching the heart’s song of praise with its own music. The wood of the cross, on which Christ died, sanctified all wood, and showed it how to resound with music in praise of God. The strings of the lute are taught to resonate with harmonies evoking the stretched sinews of Christ crucified. But these harmonies are ones not of mourning but of celebration of this high day – the Easter feast made possible by the death on the cross.
And so heart, and lute must join together in a song of praise which is both pleasant and long. But heart and lute alone do not suffice; this song of praise must be inspired by God, it must be more than merely human art. Come, Holy Spirit, and join these two in making a trinity of partners, which together create music fitting for this most holy and blessed of days.
Even the elevated words of George Herbert can only barely express the truly momentous meaning of the resurrection. It was far more even than someone coming back to life. It was no less than the demonstration by God that sin and death would not prevail; that in spite of all the evil and wickedness which dominated the world two thousand years ago just as it does today, God’s way of love, service, sacrifice and forgiveness was stronger than all else. All that his persecutors and torturers could do was not able to defeat Christ, who showed love and compassion towards even them, right up to his very death. And his resurrection showed that not even death could overcome him.
Do you question the resurrection? Remember that no body was ever found – and that there were plenty of people who would have been very ready to produce Jesus’ body, as proof of his death, had that been possible. Several hundred people are said to have seen the risen Christ, including some five hundred ‘of the brethren’, mentioned by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15.6). The description of the resurrection in the gospels, despite the slight differences in the accounts, has a ring of authenticity: note in particular that it was the women who first saw the risen Jesus. If the first Christians had decided to make up a story about Jesus rising from the dead, in order to convince others, they wouldn’t have made women the key witnesses, as women’s evidence wasn’t considered to be as reliable as that of men. And see, moreover, how after the resurrection the disciples were transformed from fearful fugitives into bold proclaimers of the risen Christ.
We celebrate this Easter morning as the war in Iraq persists and threatens to worsen. The world is still dark and dangerous for millions of people. We here are truly blessed in being able to gather and worship our Lord in safety and in peace, in a setting which God has touched with beauty. Which makes it all the more important that our Easter Gospel of new life, of hope, of love, service and self-giving must confront the forces which hold the earth in their grip. Christ did not overcome the powers of the world by confronting them with armies; but by giving himself, even his very life, so that others may have new life. And so:Rise, heart, thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise