Happy Holy Week....or is it okay to say Happy connected to the words Holy Week? Is Holy Week supposed to be happy? Or perhaps Holy Week is supposed to be pensive and reflective and meaningful but not exactly happy? Holy Week is holy because it contains days that are considered to be special and come only once a year so that gives it its unique status and makes the days holy in the sense that one needs to think about why these days are so special. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week are just those days in Holy Week and some churches have special services to offer the chance to think about this week in the life of Christ. Thursday becomes Maundy Thursday with Maundy coming from the Latin maundatum which means "commandment" because Jesus gives his disciples a command to them to wash the feet of others and serve them even as he served others. Friday is Good Friday, not being very good for Jesus because that is the day he dies but good for the salvation of humankind. Saturday is Holy Saturday with most churches doing nothing special but just waiting as the women did at the tomb. Finally, Holy Week gives way to the festival day of Easter, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whew...what a busy week for Christians and for pastors. Is it any wonder that we collapse on the Monday after Easter and that many pastors take vacation time on the Sunday following Easter?
The Easter season offers signs of new life and resurrection before our very eyes. It comes in conjunction with the Vernal Equinox and the beginning of spring. Flowers are blooming. Trees are budding. Pollen is abundant and everywhere. Little baby animals lie in the fields, fresh from the birthing process. People are busy working in their yards and fields trying to put the winter drabness behind them. No wonder that we use eggs and bunnies and chicks as symbols of Easter. All of these speak of new life and new birth.
I grew up in a home where we were not allowed to have any observance of religious holidays that may be culturally based. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were banned from our house by my mother. She told us when we were very little that both personalities were false and made up by people who wanted to take Jesus out of the religious holidays. So, we could open presents given to us by other humans at Christmas and we could hunt for eggs that we had dyed and play a game with them to search for them but no mythological creatures were going to come to our house and surprise us. Jesus would get all the recognition that he deserved at these two holidays because He was the reason for the season and he died to prove his worthiness. Is it any wonder that I got into a lot of trouble at school because I shared this knowledge with others on the playground and tried to convince them that their set of beliefs was fraudulent?
Easter was the time when we usually got a new piece of clothing to add to our wardrobe, usually something that we needed anyway. I often got a new shirt or pair of pants but some years I got a sports coat or pair or shoes. Getting new clothing for Easter did not go against any principles that my mother had and we needed them anyway so it was okay. If we did happen to bring some piece of cultural propaganda home with us from school that we colored or filled in blanks that contained the dreaded Easter Bunny, then we would get an additional lecture about the evils of the cultural observance of Easter. My mother thought that Jesus wept each time we gave the Bunny some credit that Jesus should have gotten in regard to Easter so she was pretty serious about cleansing our home from the cultural Easter celebration.
Easter Sunday was pretty much a normal Sunday at our house. We did have a ham with potato salad filled with the eggs that we decorated and hid and hunted and we sometimes had deviled eggs made with those same eggs too. We went to church, came home and got out of those stuffy Easter clothes, and ate the special lunch and then took a nap or played quietly until time to go back to church again. If Jesus really did die on the cross and rise again, then shouldn't we go to church twice on Easter Sunday? Didn't he deserve our praise for doing all that or were we going to be lazy just because it was a special day? So, we would get dressed up again and go to church at night for evening worship that lasted long enough that it was time to go to bed when we returned.
I actually was jealous of the kids I knew who had a "normal" upbringing and attended a church where they only went to church once on Sundays. I secretly believed in the Easter Bunny and wanted him to surprise us all and give us eggs that we did not decorate just to prove to my mother that he did exist. My mother did not want any explanation of how the cultural beliefs had come across the ocean with the immigrants and part of their celebration had these practices integrated into them. She just knew that if Jesus was not at the center of it all then it must be wrong.
Easter is a great holiday for celebration. It is a wonderful day for families to get together and eat special food and share memories from the past even as they create new ones. There is nothing wrong with incorporating cultural celebrations into our religious ones. For most people who celebrate Easter as a religious holiday, Jesus is recognized as the one whose life, death, and resurrection we celebrate but I think even Jesus would have loved the joy that children get from thinking that there may be some magic or mystery involved in the holiday celebration. After all, isn't the resurrection itself a mystery? Who can explain it?