When I was little Easter was a big deal. It had all the build up of Christmas, albeit without the marketing. First there was Lent. Your got that big party to kick it off and then you got to wave palm fronds around at church one Sunday. Some of my friends were Catholic and they had to give things up like chocolate or Saturday morning cartoons which seemed sort of exotic and foreign to a very Protestant little Methodist girl.
Next you got to wear a special robe and light candles every week leading up to the big day. Every Sunday was a reminder that it was coming. Pretty soon you got Maundy Thursday which was sort of morose and filled with drama. Easter was the greatest murder mystery ever told. I always imagined thunder claps and stormy weather surrounding the disciples as they ate. We entered a darkened church, and took the nighttime communion, with its savage backstory, eating the body and drinking the blood of our Lord. There was that hint of cannibalism and it felt scarier than Halloween ever did with its monsters and werewolves. This was the real thing.
Good Friday would be too depressing for words if you didn’t know how it was all about to turn out. We would read the story, and I would stare up at the beautiful wooden cross on the alter and my imagination would run wild. I remember as a very little girl looking at my book with paintings of the disciples and Jesus. My dad died when I was just five, and born as I was in 1962, Jesus had a sort of sexy hippie look when I was 8 or 9 what with all the robes and long hair. To tell the truth I guess I had a kind of fatherless crush on him.
Then on Easter morning my mom and I would get up very early and put on our matching mother daughter Easter dresses that she had been sewing for weeks. There were white patent leather purses and shoes and hats in sweet pastels. We would be at church by 6 for the sunrise service. “Alleluia, Christ the Lord is risen again, Aaaaaa-lle-luuuia!”
We made a joyful noise unto the Lord and then we drove to St. Louis for a big Easter breakfast at a fancy hotel right on the river. We hurried too, which was exciting in itself since we normally moved at a pace, but we had to be back for regular church by 10. After that we’d have our Easter Egg Hunt. I remember one Easter when my mom insisted we have it before sunrise service. I was sleepy and wanted to wait but she insisted. I was nine. And that year the eggs were plastic, and each held one of a pair of earrings for my newly pierced ears. It had been six weeks and it was time to switch to the real earrings. I got ladybugs, little gold hoops, and best of all, tiny gold crosses, no bigger than my pinkie fingernail, especially just for church that day. I was thrilled and felt almost like I was engaged to Jesus.
Nowadays my Unitarian/Agnostic/Athiest family and I have the big breakfast and the pagan egg hunt all without the alleluias. When we moved to Vermont I was reading Thomas Merton and looking, searching really, for the differences between spirituality and religion. I missed the community of the church family I grew up with, and yet Christianity wasn’t working for me as it had in various ways throughout my early life. My belief in what I can only call God has deepened and expanded as my life has grown closer to the natural world in this old and beautiful place. Still I fail to connect that with religion. My children, lacking a foundation of religious teaching, instead growing up with the questions and the conversation, have all chosen a more scientific framework for their own beliefs. My own, once strong and guiding faith, no longer quite fits. When I think of the way the Gospels were strung together I am reminded of these damn primaries and caucuses, and the ridiculousness of the super delegates. How could such a flawed system have been inspired handiwork? How can it produce anything like a glorious outcome?
In this family we live our lives with intention. We try to figure out the right things to do, and then we try and do them. Even without the reassuring framework of a church we try to see right road and find the strength to take it. I am proud of our integrity and of the way we live, mostly in love and grace.
But all the same, especially now, especially this year, I miss the alleluias. I’m glad for the resurrection story and the rebirth of spring. I feel compelled to sing about it and do a little dance to encourage the crocuses. But I am caught up instead in my mud season where it still gets dark early, and the days are filled with questions. Like Thomas I am cold and I doubt. But I do have a calendar. I can predict a future. Warmer days will come. After all these are not the first doubts or relentless questions. They have come before and so have some answers.
Sunday, my shoes and I got stuck in the mud, and pulling them up I caught sight of tiny little shoots of what will, deep into summer, become tiger lilies. They have been right under there, hidden away in the dark, all along, waiting, just waiting….. Alleluia