Monday, March 24, 2008

Reflections on Easter, Part 1

When I was a girl growing up in the church my father pastored, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter was special. Since we were Baptists we didn't call it Holy Week, just Easter Week. I do remember that we had that week off from school and it was called Easter Vacation...not Spring Break...and there were a lot of preparations for celebrating the Resurrection.

It started on Palm Sunday in which I recall the choir entering the from the rear of the sanctuary (as opposed to entering from the sides of the choir loft), waving palm branches and singing a selection from the Easter Cantata. Jesus triumphal entry was also emphasized in Sunday School that day.

Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday usually didn't involve any special church services. But my Mom was busy at home getting our Easter clothes ready, helping us color Easter eggs and making Hot Cross Buns. She also helped make unleavened bread for....

The Maundy Thursday Dinner. I remember what we did at this dinner (I will describe it in a moment) but I never really knew where this tradition derived from until I looked it up on Wikipedia. Essentially it is a commemoration of the Last Supper. I remember that these dinners were solemn and candlelit. We were served family style, by the the deacons and deaconesses, a meal of roast lamb, rice, spinach with vinegar, raisins and dates, a huge bowl of peeled oranges (I always wondered who got the job of peeling all those oranges), unleavened bread and grape juice (remember we were Baptists!). The meal was shared and then communion. There were usually hymns sung at intervals during the evening and one year there was a dramatic presentation of some of the events of Jesus' week of Passion. Sometimes there was a foot washing ceremony. This simple event was probably my favorite part of the whole week, leaving a deep impression in my heart and memory. I haven't celebrated it in years and I truly miss it.

Friday at Noon there was some sort of Good Friday service. Sometimes just our church had one and sometimes there was a community service in which pastors from several different churches in our small town participated. I don't know if stores were actually closed between Noon and 3pm, but I know at one time that was a custom in many towns in our country. My in-laws had to wait to get their marriage license until after 3pm because the court house was closed in observance of Good Friday...that was 1952.

Saturday was spent in final preparations for Sunday. I remember helping my Mom and other ladies in the church, decorate the sanctuary with Easter Lilies. Then we went home for a little play time, a good scrubbing and bed. I'm sure my Mom was busy ironing our new or refurbished Easter clothes and preparing Easter breakfast.

On Sunday Morning my Dad usually participated in the local Ministerial Associations Sunrise Service held in an amphitheater at the area cemetery. When I was in High School and Jr. College I attended a few of these. I hated getting up so early, but I was never disappointed that I went. It is a wondrous thing that our Lord has done for us.

Easter Sunday Morning church service was jubilant! I posted my favorite hymn from those services yesterday and there were others such as "He Lives". My impressions of this day were those of joy, happiness and rejoicing. Jesus won the victory over sin and death and I, yes me, I benefit from that victory. Hallelujah!!!
The culmination of Easter Week was on Easter Sunday Evening when the choir gave their Easter Cantata. When I was in High School I participated in it. It was wonderful.

Fast forward 25 years to now. Easter Vacation has become Spring Break and more often than not it is not even taken during Holy Week. Sometimes it is before, sometimes after. I've not attended any churches in the last 20 years that have had anywhere near the observances my church had when I was growing up and certainly not the Maundy Thursday observance. I haven't attended a Good Friday in several years and they never happen in the middle of the day anymore, usually in the evening. Palm Sunday seems like any other Sunday. There are usually still Easter Lilies and special Sunday morning music on Easter and if you're fortunate a teaching on the Resurrection.
It leaves Easter feeling somewhat....errr flat. I'm not big on ritual and tradition. After all, I grew up in a Baptist church and they don't tend to be big on a lot of ritual. And now I attend a church that has even less ritual than I grew up with. Most of the time this is not a big deal to me. But lately (and by that I mean the last few years) I find myself missing certain Christian observances. Observances like Lent, Holy Week, Advent, and some kind of remembrance of the Ascension. I understand that these observances have been "pushed aside", so to speak, because quite often ritual and tradition have a way of becoming meaningless. But they also have a way of bringing meaning to events and to our lives.

I have some more thoughts on rituals, Christian customs and religious observances but as this is getting to be quite a lengthy post I think I will make it a two parter. To conclude this post I would like to say that I still glory in the Resurrection of my Lord and Savior and all that that means to me, I just wish that it were more of a celebration with my Christian brothers and sisters.


Shawna said...

great thoughts cyndy. i think there is a growing return to some of those rituals in some churches, and also a growing fear of returning religiosity, pagan practices, and even new age stuff (google 'contemplative prayer' for an example!) but the other side is,as you say, an absence of spiritual focus throughout the year. as i have added a few spiritual holiday traditions around Christmas(Advent), both hubby and i noticed that we thought more about the hope of christ's birth...we had a more worshipful attitude, because we thought more about spiritual things. tradition can be very helpful,since we are carnal beings, who think about carnal things so much. tradition and ritual can be reminders to think spiritually.

and what do you mean baptists have no traditions??? baptists have "baptist" traditions!Like the alter call every sunday, the church potluck, lottie moon and annie armstrong...and ye old easter cantata that you afore mentioned! :)

Cyndy said...

Yes Baptists have traditons, but they would never admit to it! (snort)

Amy said...

Baptist mantra: But that's how we've always done it! :-)

Our new church is Southern Baptist, but we -gasp- don't pass the offering plate! They did however have an Easter egg hunt this year. grr.

Thanks for sharing what you used to do to celebrate. I think we need to incorporate some of this again. It seems as if any little "easter" bunny stuff is done, it quickly overshadows the celebration of the resurrection, because we do so little to celebrate it.