reclaiming easter

Submitted by la miller on 12 April, 2009 - 15:46

Easter was never a favorite holiday of mine. As a kid it meant getting up before dawn to make breakfast at church: scrambled eggs, little sausage links, pancakes, juice, cinnamon rolls. If I was lucky, I could stay in the kitchen during the sunrise service and make juice from the shiny orange frozen concentrate.

If I was unlucky, I'd have to sit on a hard pew upstairs, smelling the cooking sausages as my stomach growled. During the sermon, I’d try to muster up the proper mix of sadness and joy, my attempt to make the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ meaningful. To a nice Midwestern girl who didn’t grow up on a farm, Easter seemed rather gory — the celebration of new life was lost on me.

As I grew older, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the whole Easter deal. The wiry pastor at Trinity Lutheran exhorted: Christ died for your sins so you have to accept him as your lord and savior. His death is in vain, otherwise, and you don’t want that blood on your hands. Couldn’t this be interpreted as coercive?

Pastor Lindberg preached a fire and brimstone Protestantism that ran counter to the mild and stoic demeanor of his Norwegian and German parishioners. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong. I can see how a candy coating of Midwestern nice could conceal the rage, hurt and frustration of Iowans in the depressed 1980s. Jobs lost. Families split up. And always alcohol hidden somewhere in the background. I suppose believing in Christ meant a ticket to heaven, away from the humiliation and hardship of a failing economy.

Looking back, that’s my impression. Grimness permeated Easter. I somehow failed to embrace the story of rebirth and renewal. The warmer breezes of spring nudged away the cold and stern winter. The daffodils spilled warm color over the subdued palette of grays and browns. But the poetry didn’t work for me. I couldn’t get past the cruelty of crucifixion. I didn’t believe in the empty cave.

I suspect Pastor Lindberg’s personal bitterness and developing messianic complex undermined his ability to convey a truly healing message of love and forgiveness. Gentle grace and kindness can exist in a Christian faith, but the harshness of life always got more play in his sermons. It peppered us from the high pulpit. Craning my eyes up to the pastor’s flushed face, I now see myself as a vulnerable kid, wanting to believe in the glory of something beatific and larger than myself. Instead, I got the words of a scarred and angry man from the plains of the Dakotas, born during the great depression and probably raised with deprivation and violence.

It’s time for me to reclaim Easter. I’m not a practicing Christian and have no intention to be, but I’m ready to let my grim version of Easter go. The Easter of no Easter baskets, no Mardi Gras, pre-dawn church going, Good Friday gore, Wednesday services during lent, church, church and more church.

This year I made sure I had candy. I made myself dinner with a little bit of lamb. (We always had ham, but I liked lamb better.) No church. I slept in. And I’m not going to get bent out of shape if stores are closed. I did mess up by not finding myself a gathering of people. I’d like to be social today, but I have nothing planned. Maybe next year I’ll host brunch and invite over other Easter non-celebrators. I’ll recreate the best part of Easter from childhood — eating food in community. And to it, I'll add the appreciation of the return of spring.