Even as a child I knew what Easter weekend meant. I knew it was the crucifixion of Jesus, though I was pretty fuzzy on what that actually meant. I knew Easter Sunday meant that Jesus had Risen and because he had risen, the Easter bunny came and delivered eggs, but more than that at my house he hid our Easter baskets and filled them with CANDY and lots of little surprises. While not in any way like Christmas, in many ways it was more fun as there were lots of little things. Things, which today would be viewed as mundane. A new toothbrush, a small stuffed toy or even a book, was a big deal to us. My younger sister was born on Palm Sunday and my brother and I stayed with our grandparents while Mom was in the hospital. We spent Easter morning at Grandma and Grandpa's and it stands out as it was the only time as a child I went looking for my Easter basket not in my home...
As the verse goes "when I was a child, I thought as a child". Then somewhere along the way, I grew up. I had children of my own, and Easter weekend seemed to become about "rushing". Rushing to buy the candy for the baskets and trying to decide what Easter basket gifts were appropriate. Trying not to go overboard, but seldom suceeding. New Easter outfits and trying in the headlong last week rush to remember Lent and what it really means. I didn't often remember aside from trying to attend church at Zion on Good Friday, even afer we had moved over to St. Peter's. You see it was a tradition nearly back as far as Mom could remember to sing a certain song, "Lord Jesus, We Give Thanks to Thee" to end Good Friday service. The church bell was always rung all the way through the song. Somehow that song affected me like little else did. As my children grew and people that had been special in my childhood, my grandparents, passed away, the song made me ache for the way things once were and how I wanted to leave this world and pass to Him. Different ministers sometimes had a problem with a song being a tradition at our church on such a somber day. We had some who didn't want the bell rung and others who didn't want the song even played. But for years it prevailed and for me and a small number of parishoners, it made our Good Friday.
This year I went back after a couple of year's abscense. It had been a long winter, and for the first time in a while I keenly felt Lent and the sacrifices generations before our "enlightened" one had made every year for those 6 weeks. It wasn't about Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras, in fact I had never even really heard those two words used together until a couple of decades ago. I read the Gospels, each of them, as Jesus entered Jersusalem on Palm Sunday through that last week. My own somber state of mind, seemed to make me more in tune with what Lent was meant to be about. But why does it take something that threatens our sense of well being to make us look at what was always there?
The Good Friday service was beautiful. Beautiful in its somberness, in our sorrow which we know turns to joy on Easter morning. Beautiful in that last song, played while the bell proclaimed over the country that we were giving Thanks for Thee. And I came near sobbing as the song was played. I had heard of people sobbing in church and in my arrogance I always thought it extreme. Now I know different. I went home, quiet, but also at peace. I wish I could say it lasted through to Easter but it didn't.
Easter for many years was a big dinner at my grandparents house. Searching for little plastic emptied whipped topping tubs, Grandma and Grandpa had made into Easter baskets, filled with plastic grass, brightly colored eggs and candy. Grandpa delighted in hiding those baskets all around his yard, and even when I, as an older grandchild was too mature to want to look for a hidden basket, my younger cousins continued the tradition and then my own followed. Easter changed over the years as my kids grew up, Grandma and Grandpa were gone, my brother and sister lived out of state, and Easter dinner reverted to just a hand full. I had it when we could all be home and together but that became rare when two of my children no longer lived in the state. I was doing Easter dinner but not with much enthusiasm as the restless feeling I have had for months now was still with me and I just didn't want to do a big dinner for 5 people. But some things you just do because its expected and somewhere in between doing the expected you get a nugget of truth and the day turns into something you didn't quite expect.
Dinner would be simple, a baked ham, cheese potatoes which I made up the night before and just had to be baked in the oven, cut up fresh pineapple and fresh asparagus. Mom brought dessert, a peach pie, which was just perfect.
I must admit I woke up at 5:00 a.m., not overly enthusiastic, but once in the shower and with water beating down on my head, my eyes were open and I was good to go. The church service at 7:00, was crowded and Ryan and Alison met us there. It was a good service and I felt better and even a wee bit joyous that Jesus had Risen, the universal truth for all Christians. We came home and I made a pancake breakfast for everyone, something I hadn't done in a long while and it felt good. The kids cleared out for a bit, and I finished up dinner preparations and picking up the house.
A cloudy morning gave way to sunshine and a nice day in the afternoon. Mom came and the kids were here. We said grace and had our Easter dinner. Such a small thing and yet so unending in the circle of tradition. After we told stories of past Easters and life in general. These days, Mom likes to remember times when Dad was alive and they were young and life was ahead of them. It comforts her to pass down the stories and even if we have heard them before, we gather some bit of wistfulness at the times before, as they seem so much better. Dad used to be the storyteller, and Mom would roll her eyes at yet the same story told again and again. I think she misses the stories and having him tell them. In fact, I know she does because we all do. We looked at old pictures from an album of Mom's I had borrowed and we remembered. Mostly it was Mom and I remembering but it was good for the soul to remember. We are so dispersed now and families are just one here and one there, and we always used to all be in one place. We can't go back to those times, but I still miss the simplicity of them...
In the early evening when everyone had cleared out again, the dishes were done, the kitchen cleaned and the leftovers doled out and put away, I got my bicycle out and went for my first full fledged bike ride of the new year. Winter was a long time leaving and spring still seems a long time getting here, but it was a quiet night and that's always good enough for a bike ride. A crop duster plane was dropping crushed corn cobs used in eliminating mosquito larvae around all the wetlands and wooded areas. These planes are common every spring around here and this one had been spraying all weekend. Last night he was flying close to our house and as I rode by a home with small children I noticed them all outside with their parents awaiting the plane's next pass. The pilot didn't disappoint as he flew low, seemingly 20 feet over top of us and then banked the plane sharply around. I could see into the cockpit. The children ooohed and aahhed and for a brief moment I was a kid again, amazed by what that pilot could do on his ordinary job. It was magical. If only we could stay in that land of joy and amazement, when the ordinary become extraordinary. And if we could only cup those moments in our hands and cover them and keep them forever. But it doesn't work like that and I rode on and the children continued to watch though each swathe of the plane was farther away.
The maple trees have the reddish cast that tells me they are just waiting and the willow trees from a distance show a limey green, also just waiting. But there are no leaves this year yet, and we wait through more than the average rain and more than the average clouds, but it is an extraordinary sunset, and one that we must live on for a few days. We need to cup it in our hands and hold it tight so we can remember, all that was good on this Easter day.