It is the Monday after our second Covid Easter, 2021. Almost everything was on Zoom, the glorious Easter celebration, the family gathering, and forget the family dinner. We did see some family and a friend outside for an in-person time and have another gathering planned. And there were some very important Easter phone connections around the globe. But the lack of in-body experiences sent me back to remembering Easter growing up and in our family when we were young.
The thing I loved about our Easter when I was a child, was how really into it my family was, the secular parts and the religious parts. They went together and it was great. As a minister, I found out that some people frowned on the Easter “extras.” But we had it all and it spelled life and joy for me as a kid. Both my mother and father made it a big day, mostly my father, and my grandmother when she was alive, which was until I was sixteen.
Of course, church was at the center of celebrating Easter. It was all about the resurrection of Jesus. It was in his honor that we got dressed up for Easter, the day my little brother wore a suit. We always had some new and bright and beautiful to wear (in our eyes). And because we had on “Easter bonnets” we went to Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia and had a lovely walk to enjoy and show off our finery. (We only did that some years.)
We had Easter baskets all around. Before the big day, we dyed eggs for the baskets and my father got the chocolate bunnies and coconut cream eggs from some special place to go in them. They were filled with that Easter grass that gets everywhere and a toy or two. We got to eat the candy before church because, after all, it was a time of joy.
Easter dinner too was a big thing. Between our mother and grandmother, I didn’t need to do much with food except enjoy it. I remember some special dishes like cinnamon buns, cole slaw, pickled eggs and ham. I was probably too full of candy to eat much food. No alcohol that I remember. That wasn’t a big part of it. There probably was some wine.
The thing about it all was how much fun it was. We were really into it. Our family came from religious roots, our father was a Methodist and our mother started out as a Catholic. They ended up Presbyterian, and our grandmother was a devout Catholic her whole life. Good Friday was important to her and to me in my teen-age ears. We had no relatives on my mother’s side. She was an only child and my grandmother was an only child. What cousins there were were in German, from her father’s side. My father’s family was our extended family.
My father’s relatives took religion in stride as a part of life. A given. They were what I have come to think of as irreverently deeply religious. Religion for them was never legalistic or set apart. It was built into the fabric of life. So when I learned that the secular part of all of our Christian holidays was supposed to detract from the religious part and the fulness of its meaning, it was too late. I had learned that that was part of it all. It didn’t detract, it added to it. I knew the difference between Santa Clause and God and Jesus and the Easter bunny. I knew that God and Jesus were real and that good old Saint Nicholas and the Bunny were not. But it was fine that they were in the service of God and there to make those special days better.
I think I went into Ministry because religion was so much a part of life and connected all the other dots. We were not purists. I don’t want to put purists down. These days, commercialism has tended to overshadow the meaning of our deeply religious holidays, stripped them of their meaning, reduced them to that which is not real. I am grateful for the purists who reclaim Christmas and Easter.
When do we tell the children that Santa is not a real person. How do we get beyond the Easter bunny on the Day of Resurrection? How do we remember that God is the great “I am?” Real. Real through all time. So it is harder now to hold it all together. That does mess with the joy of holding it all as one in celebration.
When I became a Minister and a Mother, married to a Minister and a Father, holidays became more complex for me than they were when I was a child. And, as a result, probably more complex for our children. I should check. I tried to do it all and hold it all together, but there are physical and theological limitations. Not to mention the fact that my husband was the son of a Minister who had grown up with a more purist approach to holidays. And since they were so often on the move, there as missionaries, there was not always a single place to call home.
For clergy, by the time Easter Monday arrives, we are totally used up. We have had services for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter sunrise and regular special Easter service. We have planned and led it all. We have also made sure there are palms, an Easter candle, flowers, special music. We have attended to pastoral needs which seem to explode at those times, and we have had to keep up with all the ministerial add-ons as well. The week after Easter was always a week off, or a slow week, at least. So, some of the joy is lost.
We always tried to keep the faith and celebrate faithfully with our Alleluias on Easter and our Easter baskets. I have a whole box full of Easter decorations that includes several bunnies and special eggs. And, for those who could join in, Easter dinner was a joy though I was often exhausted by the time I was preparing it.
Times and circumstances change. I accept that. This Covid year was over the top change and heart break for so many. And I have become aware of the struggles of Palestinian Christians in the land of Jesus’ life. Living is an unending struggle for Palestinians against one of the worst remnants of colonialism and occupation. Nonetheless, the promise of new life, visible in the greening of the earth, and invisible though real in the promise of the hope and mystery beyond death, and justice with peace in this world, is real.
Most of the Easter things have stayed in the box this year. My husband struggles with health issues and I with the fact of aging and coping in isolation during Covid. So, Zooming turns out to be a gift. And the love between all of us is real and palpable. So I should be grateful. And I am. After all, in days gone by, it was love that kept the wheels turning, that kept body and soul together, and allowed us to celebrate in secular ways that highlighted the central to our faith which we celebrated in worship and community. When we sang out Easter hymns and lit the Christ candle anew, nothing could take away the reason for joy. The rest was fun and trimming. Like trimming Christmas trees and dying Easter eggs and having at least one item of new clothing if we could afford it.
Love. That’s what it is all about. And, if you think about it, it is love that survives whatever happens to our bodies. I am remembering my grandmother, my father and mother, my brother, my in-laws, mother and father and brothers, from all those celebrations years ago. The love remains. Always expressed or even unexpressed imperfectly, but love is love, and at its core, in our hearts, good and right. Even perfect.
So, I’ll take love now in our family as the deepest meaning of Easter. Jesus didn’t just rise to disappear into the ether, the unknown, but to make sure that his disciples and family and all who followed would pass on the good news that death is overcome by love. Live it, preach it, teach it, have fun with it, carry on. Life can be hard and sometimes tragic. But at its core, is hope. The Realm of God is loose among us and it is never going away. Have some chocolate or whatever appeals to you. Celebrate. Never forget how to celebrate though some years it may be harder than on other years. Just keep what’s real in your minds and heart’s eye.