The catalogues jamming my letter box suggest ways I can ‘make more of my easter’. Easter, they tell me, is for egg hunters, bunnies, heroes, the outdoors and relaxation. My church invites me to join them for three liturgies spread over four days, culminating in Easter Sunday. And once again I’m caught in a bind, because none of these invitations hit the spot.
Egg hunts are fun and already I’ve got some sneaky hiding places worked out to slow down my two young grandsons in their search for chocolate. Bunnies? Well in my part of the world rabbits eat newly-planted seedlings and dig holes where we wish they wouldn’t. The advertiser’s idea of a hero was more Spiderman than Jesus, though I suppose some connection could be made. And the long Easter weekend spent relaxing outdoors is an Australian institution.
During the couple of years I lived in a one shop and one pub town, our small Sunday Mass community planned an outdoor Good Friday stations of the cross. Beginning at the local cemetery and punctuated with stops for appropriate words, we straggled our way up a small hill and planted a rough cross on its crest. The words, the actions, the landscape, even the way the children jostled the adults for their turn to carry the cross, made it a liturgy that was relevant to those who were present.
It’s that right now relevance I miss in the church-based liturgies that mark Holy Week. I understand their symbolism, but they don’t touch my heart or move my spirit. I want to get beneath all the words, the sprig of Palm Sunday greenery, the foot washing, kissing a crucifix and craning for a glimpse of a little fire in a barbecue pan before taking my seat in the darkened church.
I long for a tangible recognition that the people in the pew and the billions across the world, like me, are all living out their own Good Friday and Easter Sunday stories. And like the Jesus story we read in the gospels, these two days are separated by Holy Saturday. Unlike the gospel story, however, our Holy Saturdays can last a long time.
We spend our lives waiting for the pain, grief and loss that go hand-in-hand with life, to abate, to go away, to ease. People living with the fallout of tragedy look for something they call closure. The Syrian grandmother whose whole family died in a bomb attack, rocks to and fro in a sea of pain, longing for the touch and sound of her dead children and her grandchildren. The people along the Queensland coast pick through their muddy homes and workplaces, grieving the loss of possessions, longing for the clean-up to be over and life getting back into something they recognise as normal.
The followers of Jesus were plunged into a similar space after the horror of the Friday we call good. Two days later, behind closed doors, they were whispering excitedly and wonderingly about the possibility that Jesus was still among them. Peace and joy came slowly. They needed time to come to terms with the fact that their lives had changed, that Jesus was still with them but now it was up to them to spread the good news.
The words and symbols of the Holy Week liturgy focus on the events of the days they commemorate. The commercial world ignores them all together. But all of us need more. If we are to recognise the Easters of our life and discover the new life they hold, then we need to be reminded that God is always there, waiting with us as we face up to our own Good Fridays and struggle through our Holy Saturdays.
However you spend the coming Easter, may you find God in whatever gifts its lead-up and follow-through have to offer.