Stories and Such‎ > ‎

Resurrection Joy

posted 11 Apr 2017, 05:49 by Fran Brady

Easter morning. Again. Father Joe mentally castigated himself for that ‘again’. Not so much the word as the inflection his tired brain put upon it. Where was his resurrection joy?

It had been a long haul since Christmas: every sermon interrupted by bouts of coughing; umpteen home visits to the frail elderlies, housebound by the icy pavements and arctic winds; umpteen hospital visits to the ancients, wheezing their last in overheated wards; his own health undermined by the temperamental heating system in the ramshackle Priests’ House and the stodgy food dished up by their housekeeper, Sister Mary Bernadette.

The added burden of Holy Week services on top of daily mass had felt like the last straw, particularly on Good Friday. His shoulders had been aching after an hour and a half of propping up the big wooden cross on a chair for a stream of parishioners to plant slobbery kisses on the plastic feet of the crucified Christ. No better way to spread disease, except possibly the Protestants’ dubious practice of the common cup. 

The Saturday night vigil had never seemed so long, nor the stroke of midnight so welcome. He had wreathed his round face in smiles as he wished the small band of the faithful “Happy Easter; Christ is risen.’ Some had wanted to linger, probably to make sure that their presence had been noted. There wasn’t much doing good by stealth in this congregation.  

Now it was morning - well dawn anyway - as he yawned his way back along the path between church and house. There was a fine smirr of rain falling from an overcast sky and a chill breeze taking liberties with his cassock. Just his luck to draw the short straw, the first mass of the day at six o’clock. Father Brian would do the eight-thirty, and he would be back on at eleven. They hadn’t yet decided who would do Benediction at six in the evening. His colleague had an unerring instinct for remembering an urgent pastoral visit when he wasn’t in the mood for ‘dressing up’. There was no doubt that it was a royal pain putting all the vestments back on again after tea. After six weeks Lenten frugality, Easter Sunday tea was eagerly awaited by the priests. There would be Simnel cake: that rich, fruity marzipan sandwich would be the first sweet taste either of them had had for six weeks. They would shamelessly over-indulge, feeling they deserved it. After that, a snooze by the fire would be much more attractive than trudging over to the church and struggling into heavily brocaded vestments. 

But he was fourteen years’ junior to Father Brian who never missed an opportunity to remind him of this and take advantage of it. ‘Humility, dear boy,’ he would say. ‘Humility and obedience.’ Then he would rock on his heels and intone sanctimoniously: ‘Watch and pray, Father Joseph. Watch and pray.’ Joe had to work hard at not allowing himself to retort, indeed not even to think the words. Resentment of authority was always the first sin when he made his weekly confession. 

His curmudgeonly musing had brought him to the door of the church. He took the big key from his pocket and winced as it made its customary yowl in the lock. The cocktail of old incense, candle smoke, rising damp and wet wool seemed especially disgusting this morning. The vestry was clammy, the stale air bitter with lingering cigar smoke. He forced open the one small window: even the drizzly morning air was better than the residue of Father Brian’s tobacco habit. As soon as he had disrobed, his senior colleague must always light one of his thin, pungent cigars. Why could he not wait until he was out of the church? But that was just one of many repressed, unasked questions. 

He began the ponderous process of robing up for mass: the unchanging order in which each garment must be donned; the particular prayer that must be said over each one before putting it on; the kissing of certain garments. Always hefty, this morning the complete ensemble felt like a stone shroud. Drearily, he made his way from the vestry, along the short corridor to the sanctuary, muttering the last of the ritual prayers. There would probably be no one else in the church. There rarely was at the six o’clock, except one or two devout souls and they had all been at last night’s vigil. Even they would feel justified in sleeping on and coming to a later mass. Besides, everyone wanted to share the exuberant joy of Easter, after the slog of Lent, with fellow-believers. Everyone wanted the big show, the soaring organ music, the roar of voices uplifted in praise. 

However, early mass must be said, every day, whatever the day. He prepared himself grimly for the task. Uninterrupted by participants, he could breeze through it and be back in the warm kitchen in no time. Twenty minutes was his record but he reckoned that today was going to beat it. He pushed open the sanctuary door, grimacing as he remembered that he had – once again – forgotten the oil for its hinges. The blast of heat and the dazzle of light stopped him in his tracks. Had someone forgotten to put off the lights and the heaters last night? 

Swelling chords of music cut through his startled thoughts. It sounded like the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. No: even more rousing that. And what was that scent? It was at once powerful and delicate. He wanted to go on smelling it for the rest of his life. He could almost taste its sweetness, its glory. The heavy vestments slipped off, noiseless and unnoticed, and he began to glide forward, the rubber soles of his boots seeming to float just above the wooden floor of the long centre aisle. He reached the altar in seconds and saw that the Lenten purple shroud had already been removed from the big crucifix above it. That was to have been one of his jobs this morning after mass. He stared up at it and was filled with fear. The cross was empty, the Christ-figure gone. Only the small clips that held the wrists and feet remained. The figure must have fallen off. Hesitantly, he searched the altar and the floor but there was no sign of it. Meanwhile the music continued but becoming gentler now; the fragrance and the bright light also abated a little. 

He was just about to look behind the altar – there was a small gap since the wall curved – when he heard a voice: ‘Why are you looking for him? He is not here. He is risen.’ 

Father Joe turned and caught the swirl of an iridescent white robe as it moved down the central aisle and was lost in a dazzle of blinding light. With it, went the music and the fragrance. And with it, went Father Joe’s reluctance, his dreary exhaustion and sense of grievance. He was filled with joy - purposeful, excited joy. Resurrection joy!