It’s Holy Saturday, the day before the big event. My younger daughter, who with her family is staying with us during the quarantine, asked this morning over coffee and the morning paper if I missed being a part of it, which was an unexpected question. I had to think about how to respond.
I think about all the Easters of my life, and how Saturday was not so much a day to pause and reflect, but a day to get ready, to make sure the sanctuary looked just so, to put the finishing touches on a sermon that had to be my best one of the year, though it seldom was. Saturday was the day I picked up corsages at the florist for my daughters, though the idea for that was really their mother’s. She was the one who got everyone dressed and ready and off to church on Easter morning. Most years I left the house in the dark before anyone was up.
Easter, for much of my life, seemed like a show that I was responsible for. I thought about the scenery (usually a big bank of Easter lilies which gave the sanctuary such a pleasant smell), I thought about the participants (not just anyone could be trusted to read the resurrection story), I thought about the small army of ushers and greeters and sound system operators needed for three, and sometimes four, services on Easter morning. At one church I served there was always a sunrise service in a nearby park, and over a thousand folding chairs had to be set up, along with a portable stage and sound system. Talk about a show.
When all of it was over, when I had preached my last sermon for the day, when I finally closed the church doors and went home, I would typically be exhausted, spent, and ready for a nap. I never had energy on Easter to do the Sunday Times crossword puzzle, which was the way I usually relaxed on a Sunday afternoon. Joy, the joy of Easter, was rare. Lent and then holy week took everything out of me. I used to remind people that Easter was a season that stretched all the way to Pentecost, but my habit was to be gone the following Sunday. I celebrated Easter by getting out of town, frazzled, and leaving things the following Sunday to the most junior member of the staff.
So, do I miss being a part of it? A little. I don’t miss the show, that’s for sure. And I think of the quarantine as an opportunity. These days I think I would focus less on the show and more on the substance.
Easter, the first one, began in the dark with no one else around. A few women came to the tomb, hauling a large load of burial spices. They weren’t going to see a spectacle. They were going to do a terrible job. And then, the angel. Or was it two? Or was it a young man? I don’t know. But the words were brief and to the point. “He is not here. He is risen.” That’s all they needed to know. In that moment, their lives had changed. They didn’t know it right away, but then no one gets it right away. I am still trying to understand what it means.
I think I would say that, if I had the chance. I think I would say, “He is not here. He is risen.” And then I would sit down and let the story speak for itself, as it always has.