In 1864, when he was just thirty years old, Sabine Baring-Gould, the author of ‘Onward Christian soldiers,’ wrote a fine hymn which has been dropped from most, if not all, modern hymn books. It begins:
”On the resurrection morning, soul and body meet again No more sorrow, no more weeping, no more pain.”
The resurrection morning he was referring to was, of course, the moment of our entry into the life of the world to come. As a man of his time, when life expectancy was short and death was all around, the hope of everlasting life which has been given us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was a source of great comfort, especially to the bereaved. It still is, as can be seen from the Eastertide practice of tending graves and decorating churches with lilies given in memory of loved ones. This is the hope implicit in many of the best known words in the Book of Common Prayer, as, for example, in the absolution in the communion service when the priest prays that God will bring us to everlasting life. The emphasis is on our future beyond this world.
The most commonly used modern version of the absolution has a different emphasis – an emphasis which complements the older one. Here the priest prays that God will keep us in life eternal. It speaks of the impact of our Lord’s resurrection in the here and now. Significantly, a fine hymn which became popular a century later than ‘On the resurrection morning’ begins: “Now is eternal life if risen with Christ we stand”. We don’t have to choose between these two ways of understanding the resurrection. It’s about both the future and the present. It always has been, both in the Bible and in Christian experience. One of the most evocative descriptions of an experience of resurrection in this life has been left to us by a contemporary of Baring-Gould, Francis Kilvert, a clergyman who died in 1879 at the age of thirty-eight, just days after returning from his honeymoon. He recorded it in his diary during his time as a curate in Radnorshire.
“I rose early and went out into the fresh, brilliant morning, between six and seven o‘clock. The sun had already risen some time, but the grass was still white with the hoar frost. I walked across the common in the bright sunny quiet empty morning, listening to the rising of the lark as he went up in an ecstasy of song into the blue unclouded sky and gave in his Easter morning hymn at Heaven’s Gate. Then came the echo and answer of earth as the Easter bells rang out their joy peals from the church towers all round. It was very sweet and lovely, the bright silent sunny morning air all alive with the music of sweet bells ringing for the joy of the resurrection.
“The Lord is risen” smiled the sun,
The Lord is risen” sang the lark.
And the church bells in their joyous pealing answered from tower to tower,
He is risen indeed”
“Christ is risen, we are risen” May the joy of the resurrection be yours this Eastertide.