I started serving as an acolyte at about age seven or eight; I don’t quite remember which, but I know that I started very early, along with my younger brother. During those days, Easter was a very big deal - especially for acolytes. We would go by the church as early as 6:00 a.m. on Holy Saturday in order to clean up and prepare for Easter service.
The truth is, there were fifty(!) acolytes, including adults and children, but only about twenty could be selected to serve on Easter Sunday, the big day. On this day, the competition was intense and fierce. There was always a lot of disappointment for those who were not selected to serve, and some of us would even cry over missing out.
For kids like myself and many others who didn’t get selected to serve, it felt as if we didn’t matter and that our contribution didn’t count. After all, we always thought we had given our all and therefore deserved to serve.
But whether I was selected to serve or not, there was one hymn that always brought me so much joy: Welcome, Happy Morning! This hymn's words were written by Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus, and were translated by John Ellerton.
Welcome, happy morning!
age to age shall say:
“Hell today is vanquished;
heav’n is won today!”
Lo, the dead is living,
Him, their true Creator,
all his works adore.
I have no idea why this particular hymn filled me with such joy. It could be because of the enthusiastic way in which we all sang the hymn at church. It may also be the idea of welcoming a happy morning - just like the first morning of creation, just like waking up to a new morning filled with joy, possibilities, and hope. Just like knowing that in spite of all our challenges, a new morning always ushers in a new beginning. It is the morning’s joy that supersedes any and all of life’s headaches.
There’s also this hope - which, I think, underlies all of our Easter themes - that the dead are living, and there is life, abundant life. It is like waking up in the morning and realizing that you are alive. A cousin of mine once said this to me: “If I can feel some pain in my body in the morning, that at least assures me that I am alive.” To my cousin, and to each of us, life is made possible only because of the defeat of death. Listen to Paul’s wondering: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” There’s neither sting nor victory in death or the grave, but there is life beyond our wildest imaginations.
Victory is about life and being alive, and the resurrection assures us of the triumph of life over death. So that even in death, we are alive through Christ.
If there’s to be any joy in the Easter story, it is one where our repeated anthem - each morning, as we awaken to the daylight - should echo the celebration of the Creator God, who because of the resurrection is God forever more. If there’s to be any joy in the Easter story, it should be a celebration of the Creator God who is before time, within time, and beyond time. In fact, our Easter joy should be a celebration of our own lives, as difficult and challenging as they may be, in honor of the Creator God who assures us of his abiding presence in our lives.
Easter, the mystery which has provided humanity with more than enough reason to sing new songs of thanksgiving, hope in a life and world that is fragile and fraught with fear, live together in unity and in pursuit of justice, love each other just as we have been loved, and look forward to each day with a renewed zeal to be the best that we can be.
With a joyous heart, I wish you a blessed and glorious Easter.
Welcome, Happy Morning!