This year my Holy Saturday was spent traveling to Iona. I was going to meet with two friends to scatter the ashes of a mutual friend of ours. It was a real pilgrimage - three hours on a train, forty-five minutes on a ferry, over an hour on a bus, another ten minute ferry ride before arriving at the beautiful island of Iona, once described as the jewel of the Atlantic. The journey was worth it. At every stage I could feel myself leaving behind work and obligations to relax and enjoy the beauty of it all. Spring was everywhere - the fresh green of the trees just beginning to blossom, masses of primroses all along the railway track, rabbits and pheasants in the fields and even the cry of a corncrake on Iona itself. It was quite perfect and so appropriate for the task ahead.
The scattering of our friend's ashes took place with very little ceremony. We had remembered and talked about her over lunch and on the walk to the beautiful north shore. We read a psalm used at her funeral in London and then let her go gently into the sea using these words:
Out of our sorrow and our love - we let you go
Out of the distractions, demands, distress, delights of daily life - now you are set free
Out of anxiety, ambition, anger, attachment - now you are set free
Out of sorrow and our love - we let you go
We then wished her the deep peace of the running wave, the deep peace of the flowing air, the deep peace of the shining stars and the deep peace of the Son of Peace.
It was very simple and very moving. I felt more intimately connected to her at this moment than I had in life. It was a moment for me to understand that love, friendship, relationships transcend death, that each of us is more than our individual life, that our influence and connectedness is greater than we can ever imagine. It was a moment to face death and its loss but also a moment to see something of what the resurrection is about - a real Easter experience.
I then had to make the long return journey and decided to go to the Vigil service on my way. This was so disappointing compared to where I had been and what I had done. For me it was more style than substance. The choir were in good voice, the ceremonies were carried out with precision but it did not speak to my heart. It was not a 'thin' experience. It did not help me enter into the reality of what the resurrection might mean. Perhaps I had been spoiled by my experience on Iona so couldn't really appreciate it. I was left me thinking that religion is like a wrapped gift which contains a nugget of gold, an experience of meaning and value, a story to live by but sometimes it's difficult to get to the gift because of the wrapping. All religions, at least in the western world, are concerned about low attendance at places of worship, a falling away of commitment but perhaps the people who are rejecting the wrapping are doing religion a good