Its Easter. In my opinion, Easter is the single most important event in Christianity. It is the resurrection of Christ that distinguishes Christianity from all other religions in the world. Christianity is the only religion whose savior died and rose again. So why aren’t we all decorating our houses and businesses and singing Easter carols and doing all the things we do at Christmas? I really don’t know.
Christmas had to happen so that Easter could, but shouldn’t we be celebrating Easter as much as we do Christmas? For most of us, we start celebrating Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, putting up our Christmas trees, and outside lights, and a blow up Santa for the front yard. Then, its off to the stores, to spend more than we can afford on gifts for everyone we know and their brother’s cousins. We spend weeks agonizing over what to buy for whom, how many parties we can fit into our schedule, and who to invite for Christmas dinner. Don’t forget putting together an impressive menu for Christmas dinner complete with fancy table decorations and place cards. Ok so now I know I’ve gone way past what most of do these days. I’m just trying to make a point. We go all out for Christmas and barely notice Easter.
I have always looked forward to the Holy Week celebrations, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. I don’t remember from my childhood, much about any mid-week celebrations. But as a young adult raising children, I have very distinct memories. Palm Sunday was the day all the children marched around the church waving palm leaves and singing hosannas. As a part of the Altar Guild (ladies of the church who kept the sanctuary dressed and prepared for every Church season including preparing Communion on the appropriate Sundays), we changed the paraments on the altar to all white and gold. The colors of Easter. We did not do anything special for Holy Monday and Tuesday. Just this year, I heard Holy Wednesday is now referred to as Silent Wednesday as nothing in the Bible apparently reflects any activity for the Lord that day.
The main activities started on Maundy Thursday. This church service for that day was an evening service. It commemorates Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. Peter of course didn’t want the Lord to abase himself by washing Peter’s feet. The Lord however explained that if he did not wash Peter’s feet, he could not be a part of Jesus’s ministry. Peter as always going from one extreme to the other then asked the Lord to wash his entire body. Once again Jesus explains that when a man has bathed, all he needs to do is wash his feet to remain clean. Jesus was trying to teach the disciples about servanthood.
Then the highlight of the week was always the Good Friday services. The church I attended was 1 mile down the road from the church of another denomination. However, the two churches got together and did a walk of the cross each year. One year it would go from my church to the other and the next year the same thing in reverse. Those who wanted to participate would meet at the starting point. A short prayer service was held. When it was over, a full-size cross was brought out. The group then joined in prayer and read scripture relevant to Jesus’s walk to the cross, I think it is referred to as the Stations of the Cross. Participants took turns in groups of 3 to 4 carrying the cross down the road. There were 4-5 stops along the route repeating the same process with different scripture. We almost always wore t-shirts that identified us as participants. At the end we gathered into the ending church’s sanctuary for a very short prayer service to end the walk. It was such an uplifting way to spend the day. Really made us think about Jesus’s journey.
Friday evening was the best. There was a wonderful service focusing on the love of Jesus for us. The service ended in silence and everyone filed out, except the women of the altar guild, who stripped the altar of all paraments, candles, flowers, communion cups all in complete silence. Holy Saturday was a time of personal reflection with no services. Often there were prayer vigils that you could sign up to pray during a specific time, so there would be 24 straight hours of prayer.
Then it was Easter Sunday. There were three services. My favorite was the sunrise service. A relatively short service almost always held outdoors, as the sun was rising. It was an amazing experience. The other two morning services were traditional Easter services and usually packed full. Something about Christmas and Easter brings people, who normally don’t attend church regularly, to seek out the comfort of God’s love on those two holidays. Then, its time for the secular celebrations and Easter egg hunts, lots of candy and a wonderful holiday meal filled with family.
So why is it that we approach these two holidays so differently? They are like the bookends of our faith. Why do we celebrate the birth of Jesus with so much hoopla and barely make a nod to the death and resurrection of that same Jesus? For it is his death and resurrection upon which the Christian faith is built. Not only did he die and resurrect, but he stayed forty days instructing his disciples and preparing them to move forward without him. Then he ascended to return to his Father in heaven. Why isn’t this celebrated like Christmas? Maybe because the resurrection could not happen without the death of Jesus, and that is too brutal and horrific to allow us to celebrate like we do the birth of a new baby. Even though we may not sing Easter carols and decorate a month ahead of time, it is a time for rejoicing. After all, HE IS RISEN, HE IS RISEN INDEED!