It’s official: Easter came and went without my help.
Most signficant for me was that I witnessed the coming and going without benefit of all the traditions that I’ve practiced believing are essential. My practice began early in ministry, when I was still an Associate and a seasoned (incredibly talented) church organist remarked that it wasn’t Easter until the organ peeled with the sounds of Judas Maccabaeus, the tune for the Easter hymn, “Thine is the Glory”. I believed the musician about Easter they way I believe Jesus about God and in every Easter service that I planned, 23 of them to be exact, we sang the hymn with gusto.
At some point, of course, the traditional language and imagery became problematic. Our New Century Hymnal did help in replacing some of the language but the imagery was still very, well, ominpotent. A half dozen years ago, at the urging of another musician, I penned a new verse for the ancient hymn and for many years I experienced Easter’s promise as the traditional tune met with contemporary words to deliver new hope. (find lyrics here)
But I sang no songs this Easter and heard no organ tones. There was no brass band and no Easter bunny.
I am both empty nesting for the first time and simultaneously now retired from professional ministry. In the normally fitful days leading up to the feast, now quiet, I practiced listening to the emotions that did and did not fill my soul. I missed my community, I missed the familiar, I missed my children. But I did not miss the rush, I did not miss the work of pageant creation, I did not miss the pressure to perform. And as the day itself came and went, I listened closely for my heart song. Again I heard wistfulness with memories of relationships that have shifted and moved. Importantly though, I realized that I had completely forgotten about Judas Maccabaeus until this morning after. As I bore witness to Easter’s coming and going, I had no awareness of the presence (or in this case absense) of the music.
Intentionally we spent our Easter morning with the Quakers (Society of Friends). We joined the early bunch for a simple potluck breakfast (sans decorations) and began to experience the slow dawning of relationships. The morning closed with the children (and teens and adults) sharing the most non competitive Easter Egg hunt that I’ve ever witnessed (and I’ve seen more than a few!); after each egg discovered there was a pause for wonder and celebration with no urgency to proceed (really). Worship, the heart of the morning, was as always simple and silent. There were a couple of shares in the midst of the quiet hour, each memorable and worthy as they emerged from the silence and moved back again. Most profoundly, in the quiet I noticed the clouds clear and the sun burst forth, I caught a shard of truth that I need in my journey to let go and move on, and I felt the warmth of a welcoming smile from a person who sat nearby. I experienced the miracle of new life, new birth, new hope… Easter.
At days end, I was reminded of Dr. Seuss’ timeless wisdom placed in the mouth of the Grinch. The Grinch was speaking of Christmas, but the truth applies to all holidays worthy of attention: “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.” Like Christmas, Easter is about something more than our human manifestations, about even more than the words and stories that we attach to it.
To be sure, I am grateful for the many Easter experiences that I’ve been privileged to share including the ones with carefully crafted liturgy and mighty chorales. But when all was said and done, as we cuddled into our home after the festivities (or their lack), we discovered our quiet empty-nest Easter had only one missing piece: chocolate. And this was a lapse quickly remedied with a trip to Walgreens. (It might also have been remedied had we humbled ourselves to hunt for eggs, but the contents of the eggs was uncertain and we were still rather shy.)
As I ponder the oxymoron of a quiet Easter in the morning afterglow, I discover that it works more purposefully than I might have imagined possible. As I cherish this unlikely oxymoron, in lieu of the traditional Easter phrases about death and resurrection, I offer a more ancient and simple greeting: L’chaim! (To life!)
(Note: The images on this page come from several sites but all are the incredible art of New Zealand painter Ira Mitchell. You can see more and purchase here work @ http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/ira-mitchellkirk.html.)