March 15, 2018 Easter Letter
Dear kind First Church friends and family:
The Choir is practicing Beethoven: an anthem from the Mount of Olives. We are getting ready for Holy Week, and I have the organ part stuck in my head. At choir tonight, we laughed out loud while we worked on it, because it has a musical footnote: a reference to Handel’s Messiah, and you can hear it in the chorus. We wondered if Beethoven was tricking the audience, by putting in a secret chord. He certainly tricked me, two hundred years later, by making me hear another song than the one we were singing. It’s right there in the sounds of the harmony. The music will be the anthem for Easter, and I look forward to seeing if you laugh too, when you hear it.
It is an unusual year for Christians, as we look forward to Easter, because it coincides with April fool’s Day, and so a hundred jokes about tricking the devil are ready for us to crack for each other. I am beginning to collect them now, and I welcome your help. Please do bring me your humorous stories. My favorite one to date? It came from our friend John Collier. John is a public school teacher in Rowley and also a tour guide at the new Ipswich Ale Brewery. The Brewery has named a flavor of beer after our church’s eighteenth century legend. It was 1740, and George Whitefield had come to Ipswich to preach, and offered a sermon so full of fire and fury and anti-slavery sentiment, that the devil himself jumped down from the steeple and ran away, because he was afraid of the passion of the people. The name of the beer? Hellbound. John sent me the picture of satan on the bottle; the devil looks shocked and embarrassed, truly tricked on that day.
Holy Week and Easter give us chances, in our spiritual practice and our actions, to trick the devil in as many ways as we can. We start with Palm Sunday, in a service full of children singing and trumpets playing, and we are well aware that the trick of that day is that a military victory looks good, but isn’t so great. Jesus was expected to be the general, and to come in on his great steed. But he chose a little donkey instead, surrounded by children, and tricked everybody’s expectations. He knew better. And so we start with a children’s procession, and end with the parables, which themselves are also full of tricks and secret codes. Come and see for yourself!
And then we continue in Holy Week, with Maundy Thursday, embedded in the Passover freedom feast, and share a simple worship, and remember, over soup and bread, what Jesus’ ministry embodied: a pathway through the red sea, to our own freedom. And Good Friday offers two services this year: a hike, mid-day, at the hour that Jesus died, to pray and honor him, and a tenebre service at 5pm, in the twilight, to read his seven last words. Easter also offers two services. First: our traditional sunrise worship at Crane’s Castle, in which we celebrate with the youth group and confirmation class, and enjoy their insights about healing and mercy and humor. Second: and our traditional family worship at 10am, with glorious music, the flowering of the cross, two Easter egg hunts, and a chance to have the last laugh at the devil’s attempted trickery.
I hope you have been ok with all the storms. The deacons and I are checking to be sure; and please let us know, too, if we can double it up and support you. And I hope you will join us for all this good humor and worship. We are so grateful for your support, and your gifts enable us to support new ministries to children and outreach to the wider community, which is in itself, a lovely chance to push out the frontier of joy.
Sincerely, and with many blessings,