Saturday, May 2, 2009

Easter - Hudson Valley News Column

NOTE:  In April, the Hudson Valley News debuted as the newest weekly newspaper.  I was invited to write a column which appears every other week.  This column, for Easter, is the first.  As yet, the column does not have a formal title.

You remember those days as a child, racing through the yard or house hunting for eggs your parents hid just minutes before, hoping the Easter bunny left plenty of chocolate in your basket.  You probably missed the look of anxiety on your parents’ faces as they realized that you had missed a couple of eggs, and they couldn’t remember where they had hidden them.

Ah, Easter.  

Of course, your memories may have been more along the lines of worship.  Perhaps a midnight vigil that strained your ability to keep those eyes open.  Or a sunrise service that, well, strained your ability to keep those lids open.  Or, like me, the glorious Easter morning service at just the right time -- 9:30 a.m. 

That’s when we sang, “Hail Thee Festival Day” and “The Strife is O’er,” while my brothers and I processed with the acolytes up and down the aisles carrying candles or crosses or -- when we got older -- the thurible wafting intoxicating and dangerous incense throughout the church.

Only years later did we learn of the looks of anxiety on our parents’ faces as they watched us swing the incense.  We didn’t know they were thinking back to the time when an older boy, Jim, got carried away with the thurible.  He swung it “around the world,” lost control and hit a pew where the ashes and burning incense flew out, landing in the lap of an elegantly dressed woman.  Her wild jumping around and screams still echo in my mind.

Sometimes, the pictures from our past make us forget what Easter actually means.  Whether it’s eggs or incense that spark your memories, the root of this Christian holiday -- holy day -- is found in an empty grave.  It is the day when we celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection from death three days after enduring an excruciating death on a cross.

Easter is the climax of a tense drama called Holy Week, one that begins on Palm Sunday with a triumphal entry for Jesus into Jerusalem, and progresses through Maundy Thursday (called Holy Thursday in some denominations) observing the night when Jesus broke bread and shared wine with his disciples -- and in so doing instituted Holy Communion.

From there, the faithful experience the pain of Good Friday, many -- like the churches of Hyde Park -- uniting to walk the “Way of the Cross.”  If you have never taken part, think about it.  Fourteen “stations” mark different stages of Jesus’ tortured journey to the cross.  Often parishes bring a large cross into the church for people to touch, to venerate, to remember what was sacrificed for us.

Then, the waiting.  Saturday comes and goes in quiet reflection, a sense of melancholy calling to mind the despair Christ’s disciples must have felt after their rabbi was killed.  Could there be any hope?

Finally, dawn breaks, and the tomb is empty.  Christians gather all around the world to celebrate that empty tomb.  For Christians, it means that death has no power -- that life is more than what we see in this world.  It goes on.  Always on.

Sometimes, we get caught up in the ceremony or the secular trappings, but the root of this Holy Day is always the same.  Resurrection.

The Community Walk of the Cross is on Good Friday at 10:30 a.m. starting at Regina Coeli Church.  Check your local church for other Holy Week and Easter services.

The Hudson Valley News is the new weekly newspaper for Hyde Park and the Hudson Valley.  It comes out each Wednesday.  You can purchase it at local vendors or purchase a subscription.