Today, April 17, 2022, is Easter in the Christian calendar. In the Jewish calendar it is the second day of Pesach and the first day of Omer. In the Islamic calendar, we’re in the middle of Ramadan. In Pagan cultures, we are between events, having celebrated the Spring equinox but still awaiting Beltane. This year, Buddha’s birthday fell on our April 8 and Theravada New Year starts tomorrow.
In each of these traditions, rituals, prayers, and special foods mark the passage of time. Followers of these traditions have been initiated into the mysteries associated with the special day or month or season. Kinship bred of coming together in study of beliefs and practices has deepened the bonds of those who share in these beliefs. I hope that today you are all finding reason to gather, regardless of which faith tradition you may have been raised in.
Some of you may be gathering at a table lit with sacred candles and laden with eggs, horseradish, brisket, matzo, and parsley. Gathered in memory of freedom and flight from oppression, sharing the story that continues to inspire, as it has for millennia.
Some may be waiting for sundown to break your fast and share in dining on dried fruit, vegetables, halal meats, breads, cheeses, and sweets. Sharing strengthens community and acts as insulation against prejudice.
Some may be enjoying bibimbab prepared by monks at local temples and offered, free, to all who come to the temple. Sharing the wealth with open heart in service of ending suffering.
Some may be gathering young shoots of greens, cooking oatcakes, and licking honey off spoons. More likely, though, the mead will be being tasted to ensure its quality! This gathering helps to reawaken the earthy nature within and give free rein to what it means to be fully human.
Easter has always been a strange combination of the pagan and Christian traditions to me. Curiously, my memories remain rooted in the sensory experience of foods, Easter lilies and family get-togethers, rather than the religious rituals.
In my family, Easter sunrise service was the start of a day filled with hunting for Easter eggs, eating way too much sugar and chocolate, and ending up at my grandparent’s home for an elegant supper of lamb, fresh asparagus, and parslied potatoes, all served on bone china and eaten with the good silver.
Secular and Sacred
I find the strange juxtaposition of secular and sacred confusing at times. The tradition of getting dressed in your Easter best and putting on your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it, was a central part of my upbringing. With that said, I do love the “haute couture religieuse” found in the Catholic Church. Protestants, however, seem unable to be flashy dressers. Their only nod to the bursting energy of spring is to change the color of their stoles to that rich, deep purple.
Then There Is the Music
The most inspirational religious aspect of Easter for me is the music. From the hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” to Bach’s Easter Oratorio, my soul is touched and inspired. I confess I am ignorant of the music found in other faith traditions. I suspect, however, that it also plays an important role in all traditions because it offers a language that connects heart and soul.
Reverting to Baser Selves
Humans are a confounding species. In spite of having excellent models for behavior, historic and scientific treatises for how to become whole and upstanding, and rules and regulations to whip us into shape, we consistently seem to revert to our baser selves.
In my experience, every spiritual tradition has instructions on how to be a better person, rules and rituals to follow on how to attain that status, and what to do in times of spiritual distress. And, despite having all these tools, there continues to be mistrust, fear, and outright prejudice within and between the many spiritual traditions currently in existence.
I watched coverage of the Pope on Good Friday as he recreated Jesus’ acts of humility by washing the feet of prisoners. That same day I watched stories of human suffering caused by war in Ukraine. I read about politicians and corruption at all levels. I listened to reports about climate catastrophes, mass murders, and an on-going pandemic. I was struck by how little has changed since the Romans declared Jesus a criminal and sentenced him to die.
Faith, Hope and Love
I was also struck by the persistence of faith and hope. This illogical belief that humans can somehow transcend our venality and become our better selves. I was struck at just how incredible our track record is, considering we started from single-cell organisms billions of years ago.
Faith is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful of constructs. It demands unwavering belief in the impossible while offering no rational explanation for its actual outcomes. It sustains people in the darkest corners of their inner selves and inspires others to create music and art that soothes the savage breast. It is my hope that whatever spiritual tradition you adhere to, that you find within its teachings ways to be kind to yourself and to others, this day and always.