One of my favorite writers is the very irreverent David Sedaris. Because I taught English as a second language, I get a big kick out of his tales of studying French–especially the story about the difficulty of explaining Easter. “What is an Easter?” asks a Muslim student. As Sedaris and some of his fellow Christians attempt to explain the crucifixion, the atonement and resurrection of Jesus, they find their vocabulary sadly inadequate (and indeed absurd). A Polish student says Easter is “a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus.” Another chimes in, “He die one day and then go above my head to be with my father. He nice the Jesus.” So, as Sedaris puts it, “Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, [they] did what any self-respecting group of people might do. [They] talked about food.”
Even as a native speaker, I can relate to the difficulties of explaining abstract religious concepts. If I examine my own Easter vocabulary, phrases like “solid dark chocolate,” “lovely decoupage eggs,” “marshmallow Peeps”, and “funeral potatoes” are more common than phrases like “only begotten son,” “atoned for our suffereing,” and “He is risen.” One set denotes Easter as holiday, the other, Easter as holy day.
My earliest memories of Easter reflect this dichotomy.
When I was a little girl, we knew Easter was coming when my mom did two things. First, she took my sister and me to Sears to get new dresses. It was so exciting to try on fancy pastel frocks with scratchy lace and skirts that swung out when we’d twirl. Sometimes Angela and I matched. Sometimes not. We never got hats or gloves. New dresses were sufficient–anything more was just showing off.
The other marker of Easter was the visit to my Grandma Jessie’s grave. I enjoyed those visits. The grass was velvety to lie on, the air smelled of roses, and the grooved letters of my grandma’s name carved into stone were fun to trace. I never knew Jessie. I was 2 when she passed. Perhaps my parents used the opportunity to speak of the resurrection. I don’t remember. My mother has never been one to sermonize. Yet a connection was made for me that Easter was a time to look forward to reunions. My mother mourned her loss each April; Jessie was born on Easter Sunday in 1903. But I also think my mom chose early spring as the time to visit because she cherished Easter’s promise of resurrection, the holy day reminded her that she would indeed embrace her mother again.
Something else I have observed of my mom in the spring is that her heart turns to the soil. When I had gone through a particularly hard time a few years ago, some dear friends sent me 4 dozen mixed bulbs. Life in a box. I don’t share my mother’s green thumb and had never planted anything before and feared nothing would grow for me. I read and reread the instructions before tentatively planting the first bulb that fall. I found I enjoyed planting things and imagined the beautiful flowers that would grow. But a few days later I went outside and saw that my garden was pock marked with hole after hole where squirrels had dug up and stolen my floral treasures. I cursed those rodents and sobbed my heart out. It was as if the squirrels had taken my hope from me along with the daffodils and crocuses. But to my surprise, come spring, I had the loveliest flowers in my front yard. It was a little miracle. Flowers and faith can survive decimation.
Last spring the kids helped me bury bulbs. One of us would scoop out dirt with a little shovel, one would plop in a bulb, one would sprinkle it with Tabasco or “spicey wicey” to keep away the critters, and one would replace and pack the dirt. I can’t describe the joy I feel when the first little green sprouts show themselves. And these beautiful flowers keep coming back. Sometimes in winter, when my sweet flower beds are buried under 3 feet of packed, salty snow, I just know nothing can survive. But not too long ago, when it seemed winter would never end, I went out my front door and saw little purple crocuses poking their heads out of the ground. It called to mind a favorite primary song that beautifully parallels gardens and the resurrection:
On a golden springtime, underneath the ground,
A tiny seedling lay asleep until the sun shone down.
Awake, awake, O little seed!
Push upward to the light!
The day is bright. With all your might,
push upward to the light!
On a golden springtime, Jesus Christ awoke
And left the tomb where he had lain; the bands of death he broke.
Awake, awake, O sleeping world!
Look upward to the light,
For now all men may live again.
Look upward to the light!
On that first Easter Sunday, that holy day, women came to Christ’s tomb, found it empty, and were heart broken. Our hearts too are broken by our losses, large and small, tangible and intangible. Yet that empty space can be filled with hope. Faith can survive a dormant season. Easter means that the tomb is empty, because He is risen. He is risen. He is risen.