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Reflection for Holy Week (3): A lasting echo

Mike Ward's picture

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      The greatest human invention has to be digital radio. I have lost count of the number of times I have listened to Test Match Special, with England about to lose their 9th wicket to the Canada 2nd XI, only to hear the BBC announcer say "Radio 4 longwave listeners will shortly be leaving us for the Daily Service". Rare moments of England beating Australia were lost to crucial announcements of "Shannon, Bailey and Hebrides, Force 5 to Force 6 south veering south westerly, visibility poor". And in the evenings, football commentaries from Anfield flickered in and out between Danish rock music and that hiss which was part of radio after nightfall or when the sky was not clear blue.

 Then came digital radio and all was crystal clear. That hiss, the snap, crackle and pop of radio tuning is a thing of the past. But now I discover from Professor Brian Cox in his Wonders of the Universe that the hiss is music to the physicist's ears, a lasting echo of an event billions of years ago. Christians who believe that the earth was created in 4004BC look away now. It seems the hiss you hear when you tune in to an old radio is something called Cosmic Background Microwave radiation (CBM), literally a noisy echo of the first flash of light when the universe burst into existence. That hiss is an echo of creation.

  Easter too begins with an echo, bouncing around an empty space, an echo in an empty tomb. A group of women arrive at dawn's first light to anoint the body of a man who had changed their world. How their cries must have bounced off the tomb's walls: "He is not here, not here, not here!" Or was it, as John suggests, Mary Magdalene who broke the silence: "They have taken the Lord, the Lord, the Lord, the Lord!" There too stood Mary, the mother of Jesus, alone with unspeakable thoughts of grief and terror, alone with only the echo answering back. There is nothing more substantial to our story of Easter really. Just an empty tomb, and the only words left for us are those recorded by people long since faded into history. "He is not here, not here, here, here..."

   An echo: an echo that like the hiss of the radio tells us that something much bigger, much more cosmic, much more explosive, did really happen. Tune in closely as Mary Magdalene hears nothing more than the sound of her own voice. The echo tells us all we need to know: there was no-one there to answer. At that heart-stopping moment in the history of the cosmos the tomb was empty. Death was no longer the full stop at the end of life's sentence. Jesus was alive, alive, alive, alive...

 Tricky things, echoes. You cannot pinpoint the exact point from which the sound originates, who said what or precisely when. The identity of the voices bouncing off the walls of the cave, the echoes bouncing back, must have made it hard to pinpoint who said what. The sound of Easter, the sound of resurrection, is not the sound of silence, but the sound of confused echoes bouncing back to us through the centuries, a hiss that we wish we could pin down, tune into with more accuracy, to hear resurrection without the noise.

 Resurrection is noise. It is that hiss. And in the non-digitalised, messy human lives we live, tuning in to God remains almost impossible: one moment its there, we feel Jesus almost touching us, his voice crystal clear and we sense the joy of Easter and His presence; the next minute we are interrupted by the shipping forecast! There is no digital short-cut to Easter, no way to cut out the noise. The noise is Easter. The good news remains an echo, certain, confident, joyful, yes, but an echo nevertheless.

 As for the Church, its task is to trace the echo, to interpret it, to take people as close as the church can to the original sound. At the moment I am reading Edmund de Waal's book, The Hare with Amber Eyes. It is the story of a potter and craftsman who inherits a collection of 264 Japanese netsuke and his attempt to trace them back to the people who made them, bought them and collected them. I like the book's subtitle: A hidden inheritance. De Waal repeatedly talks of feeling a small netsuke he carries in his pocket, turning it round and round in his hand, and of the urge to unravel the story of an object that should never have survived.

 And there, surely, is Easter, a hidden inheritance. Tiny fragments, echoes of an event that should have been forgotten, a losable thing that has survived 2000 years, and, as Edmund de Waal says of his netsuke in his pocket, something so small that it migrates and almost disappears among your keys and your change. You simply forget that it is there. How true. How quickly we move on and simply forget Easter is there in our grasp, resurrection promises in our pocket among our keys and small change! The echo is so small, so fragile, and soon, too soon, Hallelulahs will be displaced by Hebrides, Rockall, 4 to 5 south west, visibility good (or worse, by The Archers).

 De Waal meanwhile finds the house where the original collector of his netsuke lived. House-watching, he says, is an art. "You have to develop a way of seeing how a building sits in its landscape or streetscape. You have to discover how much room it takes up in the world, how much of the world it displaces." So it is with tomb-watching. My favourite walk to Liscard takes me through an old graveyard, and everywhere I look the graves of the great and the good, and the not so great, echo the same truth: He is not here, he is risen! An event, a tomb far away outside Jerusalem has displaced the lives and hearts of grieving parents here in the Wirral: of an airman killed in 1941 or the child who "fell asleep" in 1873. A far-away tomb has displaced the terraced houses of Wallasey, found room in their streets and in their own marble tombs. The heads and arms of the angels may have been eroded or broken, but the fact remains - this is an echo that has displaced the world! We do not need angels.

 And still the echo comes to us from every direction, in the voice of a friend, the word of Scripture, the sounds of nature. This echo, like all echoes, cannot be stopped: the great big bang of the human universe penetrating into broken hearts and distracted minds, surprising, confusing and disorientating us. And the one echo, the single greatest repeated sound heard above the noise in a thousand churches this week, echoes in our mind as we continue on life's journey: The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!



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