Lent 2012 has been a Lent like no other for this family.
On the 1st Saturday of Lent my best beloved second mother, E, went home to God - so my personal journey through the 40 days took a very different direction from the one I'd planned, with less emphasis on personal holiness and considerably more on survival amid a deep ocean of grief.
A week after her funeral, on the first day when that grief was no longer the first thing of which I was conscious of on waking, my mother-in-law also took her leave of us....so my children lost two grandmothers in just three weeks. At the same time 14 parishioners also departed - so that this Lent was above all a season of farewells, some expected, some at the "proper" time, though no less sad for that....and some sudden, untimely, hard to negotiate.
Truly, a Lent unlike any other:so, fittingly, today's Easter celebrations were also unlike any other.
Though Holy Week I'd been very conscious of the burdens that some of my extended church family were carrying.Family struggles, harmful addictions, apparently irretrievably broken relationships.
They weighed heavier than usual this year and there were moments along the way when I caught myself grumbling that all these PEOPLE needed me when I ought to be worrying about the Liturgy - til God reminded me with great gentleness that there was no point in trying to worship his Son in the Eucharist if I had no time for Him among those people for whom I have a care.
After that things were fine - and the to-do list somehow got done at least sufficiently to pass muster...and the Triduum came and we were carried along on a river of worship as we shared in the events of the first Holy Week...and finally came to Easter morning.
And, of course, it was good - truly, more than good - but not a bit straightforward!
It was good that some of those with whom I'd walked the Way of the Cross over the past week were there to share in the joy of the Resurrection.
It was good that we welcomed baby H into the household of faith through baptism - and I., baptised on Easter Sunday a year ago, came with his parents too.
There were friends from my title parish, a couple I will marry later this month, family from abroad, all sorts of wonderful people to love and rejoice with.
The whole of valley church was delightfully full and happy - when S., our no-longer-resident alcoholic, arrived.
He had already graced the 8.00 Communion with his presence, intermittently lucid and frantic, alarming us a little when he placed a sharp serrated potato peeler on the altar as part of his protest against the Church's failure to act to feed the starving during (I think!) the Irish potato famine, but quietening down as together we blessed the tree he has brought in memory of his friend J, whose funeral I'd conducted in January.
He spent quite a while demanding baptism rather loudly, - S does not have an "indoor voice" - before agreeing that I could baptise baby H. first, and departing for a while...
However as the 9.30 congregation erupted with joy into one more "HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!" before the final hymn, he was back - intent on conducting a conversation at full volume from one end of the church to the other.
No of course he didn't want baptism.
Everything was fine!
Life had never been better!
For a while we engaged in a slightly demented conversation by hand signals, me at the altar, S at the font - in which thumbs-ups figured largely...but he wanted everyone to know that he, Jesus, was alive...and that we ought to get out there and do some living ourselves.
Not a bad Easter message, I felt - though S did spoil things rather by throwing the liturgical dustbin lid (used for the loud noise at the end of Tenebrae, you know) about a bit...and striding down the aisle waving a glass of cider.
I began to suspect I was actually living in an episode of Rev once again - but was thrilled by how well the valley congregation absorbed him, with barely a raised eyebrow, and certainly no sense that he didn't belong there in the church.
It became a little more alarming when he announced his intention of joining us up the hill as well, - a much smaller building, with an older congregation and a generally more formal taste in worship. I tried to warn him that if he were noisy up there, it seemed inevitable that he would be asked to leave...but he was undeterred.
His first entrance, during the opening hymn, was full of poetic grace as he marched up the aisle bearing a branch of cherry blossom from the tree in the churchyard, which he placed on the altar - before leaving, blessing the congregation as he went with more thumbs-ups...though this time no response was forthcoming and he was asked to leave.
This happened several times in the course of the service.
I hated it...but could see, too, that in a smaller space his presence loomed large and somewhat threatening...and nobody should be frightened in church on Easter Sunday (or any other day).
How can I offer an embrace wide enough to encompass both the awkward and disturbed like S., with whom Jesus would spend much of his time, and the gentler souls who are part of the regular congregation?
If Resurrection means anything in the here and now, then it must have something to say to those who cling on to the edge of life and the edge of society...but it takes courage to open our hearts and our lives enough to include them.
I'm reasonably comfortable with S., but I know that if my children were small I might feel completely different about his presence in our churches...
and so many of the hill congregation, while clearly concerned about his situation and sad that life had clearly not treated him well, were anxious that I should learn from the tragic death of Fr. John Suddards, only a few miles away.
I'm keen to learn from it too - but I'm not sure that I want to learn the same lesson that my congregation wants for me..
So, amid the undoubted joy of today I'm asking myself how we live as Easter people, in a way that enables the flourishing of all?
What I might do differently to help my congregations fear less, when I'm sometimes fearful mysel?.
And I'm perversely proud of the signed inscription scrawled in OHP pen on my rear windscreen when I emerged from hill church at the end of the morning