I was a young snarky teen the first time I went to a midweek service with my mum. It was my first Maundy Thursday service. And it was the first time that Easter became real to me, not just another ‘church thing’.
Perhaps it was because, with less distraction, I was suddenly paying attention to the story being re-enacted before me.
Looking back, I can think of several reasons why this happened. Perhaps it was because this was the first small, intimate service of the Eucharist I had been to – Thursday evening being much less crowded than a Sunday morning. Or perhaps it was because, with less distraction, I was suddenly paying attention to the story being re-enacted before me. It was the first time I really watched as the priest broke bread to share among us few, and somehow this helped me to grasp that this was a real story, not just something we recited on a Sunday morning.
However, the key thing I remember clearly was that this was the first time I sensed God drawing near to me in a church service. Since that Maundy Thursday service so many years ago, Easter has remained my favourite time of the Church calendar. But it’s more than a Church season to me: Easter has become an everyday event, even more so with my current work as a prison chaplain.
There’s something about working with men who really don’t see themselves as children of God, or recipients of His grace, which grounds the Easter narrative almost to a halt. So, I’ve found myself asking, “how can I make this story real to inmates and staff where possibly their only understanding of Easter is chocolate rabbits and creme eggs?”
How can I make this story real to inmates and staff where possibly their only understanding of Easter is chocolate rabbits and creme eggs?
There isn’t a simple answer.
There probably isn’t even a single answer.
However, what there has been is the commitment to keep asking this question: weeks before we reach Holy Week or even start looking towards Lent, how do we make Jesus known in our culture today?
How do we share his love and sacrifice for us? How do we share grace upon grace, and how do we share the triumph of the cross, that great and glorious time when we get to say, “He is risen; He is risen indeed”?
Thus, preparing for the joys of sharing the Easter narrative begins now. It begins with grinding out, in daily interactions with inmates, the truth that God’s love is for them, not because of what they have done or not done, but because of who they are – His.
That God’s grace is available to them, even now, as they are in prison.
That Jesus is for them and not against them, and thus his sacrifice is for them just as much as it is for those outside the prison.
Then perhaps, with my first Easter as a prison chaplain, instead of looking forward to spending Holy Week in church, I can look forward to sharing the Easter narrative with those I encounter every day. So that maybe the journey from Palm to Easter Sunday will also become a part of their narrative. Maybe the darkness they know, both personally and institutionally, will be overcome – destroyed by the light – because Jesus is risen.
Instead of looking forward to spending Holy Week in church, I can look forward to sharing the Easter narrative.
I’m not sure what Easter will bring this year for the men and women I work with, but I can look forward with gratitude, hope and faith that the God who drew near to that snarky teenager is bursting with joy to do that again and again, and not just at Easter time, but every day. That somehow, with our little acts of faith, our drawing breath into His faithfulness, with frequent attempts to share grace and love, falling and failing, we throw ourselves into that narrative – knowing that He is already here, showing us and them that indeed, He is alive.