I saw my first Easter decorations yesterday and I flinched. Now, how I could have held out this long I don’t quite know — the Easter Peeps have been out in the grocery stores since Ash Wednesday or before — but I must have had some blinders on in the candy aisle. Eleven days out from the holiday itself, I suppose I can’t complain. People have got to buy their chocolate bunnies and chicks sometime, right? The retail world simply runs on a different schedule.
But somehow it feels hard to look at the cheerful Easter pastel stuff, when I’m still trying to do the serious Lenten stuff. If I could design the world from my religious perspective — you know, in a fantasy world where I was in charge of it all — I’d say all the Easter decor could come out either at midnight the night before Easter, or sunrise on Easter itself, so that the final days of Lent could be spent in solemnity and silence. I’d do the same with Christmas, so we could celebrate the 12 days starting ON (not before) December 25th. What a grinch I am!
Grinch I may be, but I came by it honestly… I grew up in a church that got VERY somber for Lent. Broadway Presbyterian Church, a congregation full of actors and musicians, really got into the drama and the angst of it all. Alleluias were banished, and I remember my father jumping up in chagrin to take the needle off a record of Handel’s Messiah, just as the Hallelujah Chorus came on and ruined his Lenten mood. During Holy Week our church had daily services at noon, marking the hour when Jesus “stretched out his loving arms on the cross,” and though I might be one of three or four people (pastor included), I treasured each meditative hour in the dark wood and stained glass of the sanctuary. Afterwards I would go blinking out into the sunshine, noise, bustle, and business of Broadway. And it’s there, I suppose, that I would have first felt the incongruity — when I was so rudely accosted by all the shop windows luring me to get into the Easter spirit by purchasing and consuming chocolate.
As I’ve grown older and mellower, I’ve learned not to begrudge the retailers. God knows it’s hard enough to make it in a world where lots of people don’t even go shopping in physical stores anymore. When I get annoyed at the plastic eggs I just need to remember that we have two simultaneous holidays going on – secular Easter, where you hide eggs and eat chocolate, and sacred Easter, where jazz bands joyfully trumpet the good news of Christ’s resurrection. Secular Easter starts slowly and builds up over time, but sacred Easter asks you to hold your breath for a moment ahead of time, and to save your celebrating for the day itself.
So I hope you can spend some time contemplating the harder stuff in the coming days. The road to Jerusalem, the last supper, the cross, and the grave all remind us how fragile life can be, and how powerful the forces that would judge, condemn, and kill. Join us this coming week on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, or Good Friday if you can. Sit in silence if you can. Or put on a record and contemplate the darker portions of Handel’s Messiah — just be sure to lift the needle before the joy bursts out too soon.