I have lost that Easter feeling.
When you grow up Christian, Easter is one of the two high holy days of the year, the other one being Christmas, of course. Our culture makes it impossible to escape Christmas. Ironically, I have forgotten all about Easter again this year. Had I not read about it in the paper today, I would have forgotten about it today too. Of the two Christian holidays, arguably Easter is the more important. After all, had Jesus been born and had not risen from the dead, as most Christians believe, well, he would have been just another anonymous brat born in a manger. (Of course, I have a different take on the meaning of Jesus’ life.)
If you grow up Catholic and attend Mass regularly, as I did, it is impossible not to anticipate Easter. As with Christmas, the many events that preceded it acted as a crescendo to the actual event itself. Just as Christmas is preceded by the season of Advent, Easter is preceded by Lent. When I was a wee lad, Lent meant forty-four days of denial. Now Lent usually means devout Catholics have to abstain from meat on Fridays. The Catholics who studied their Baltimore Catechisms might also spend more time during Lent devoted prayer and almsgiving. I suspect most American Catholics could not even tell you what almsgiving actually is.
Holy Week (the week before Easter) was of course a big deal when I was growing up. Mass on Palm Sunday included a procession into the church with palm fronds, reputedly reenacting Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Good Friday meant heading to the church to devoutly perform the Stations of the Cross. At each station, we had to ponder the horror and the sorrow that poor Jesus underwent because our nasty and pervasive sinning. Easter itself meant large crowds of lapsed Catholics at church (who would reappear on Christmas), kielbasa and eggs for breakfast (for we were a Polish Catholic family), and of course Easter eggs. In our family though, we were not talking the Cadbury kind, but actual hardboiled eggs that we painted in watercolors and placed in Easter baskets. All those eggs were very pretty to look at, except few of us liked hardboiled eggs, so they were largely left uneaten. The eggs were either gone or thrown away long before Ascension Day.
Since then of course I have spent thirty years away from Catholicism and have gone largely secular. When our daughter was a child and her grandmother was still obsessed about sending us Easter baskets, we would hold an Easter egg hunt or two. Then we simply forgot about Easter. This year was typical. As usual last week I had no idea that Easter was arriving.
Supposedly we live in a more religious and Christian country than we used to. I doubt this for we are too busy breaking Sabbath laws in the name of our real God, capitalism, to care too much anymore about holidays like Easter. I remember a time when Easter was as pervasive as Christmas. You can still find the Easter candy and Easter baskets at stores this time of year. Like Christmas presents, they tend to arrive months before the actual event.
Perhaps Easter would mean more if the date did not change every year. According to Wikipedia, Easter is calculated as follow. “The canonical rule is that Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the 14th day of the lunar month (the nominal full moon) that falls on or after 21 March (nominally the day of the vernal equinox).” Establishing Easter as, say, the first Sunday in April might help cement the date in our minds. Since it can arrive as early as March 22nd or as late as April 25th, chances are whatever Sunday you think it is during a given year is likely to be wrong.
Given its confusing arrival date, my spiritual but not religious state, and my rather harried life, Easter tends to slip by me most years. Often it is not until I see the Easter candy discounted at the local CVS do I have a clue that I missed it again.
Perhaps I have lost something precious as a result of my secular adulthood. Some part of me does miss the hoopla surrounding Easter. The smell of burning incense in the sanctuary, the solemnity with which I did the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday and the High Masses celebrated on Easter Sunday are certainly childhood memories to treasure.
Also gone is of course my naiveté. It is strange that although Jesus reputedly was raised from the dead, only his disciples saw him. It is also curious how the legend of his resurrection grew in the telling. The Gospel according to Mark, the first gospel written, has little of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, yet we get much longer and florid accounts in later gospels like Luke’s. It seems Jesus wanted to test our faith a bit. He was not the type after resurrection to go back to the temple in Jerusalem and allow himself to be inspected by the rabbis so there would be no doubt whatsoever about his resurrection. I guess he did not want to frighten little children or anything. Jesus was so thoughtful that way.
For me today is just another Sunday. Since the weather is nice though, I intend to celebrate Easter in my own way. While I shall not celebrate a resurrection that I do not believe actually happened, I shall get on my bike and peddle twenty miles or so on the W&OD trail. I shall enjoy the fresh air, the sunshine, the glorious flowering trees in Washington this time of year, and the intoxicating feeling of rebirth during spring here in the northern hemisphere. For me this is the real resurrection.