The commemorations bring a mix of emotions, much introspection, renewed curiosity, and at times a determination to re-commit to the faith of our fathers. From the hurrahs and pomp of the parade of Palm Sunday to the Cleansing of the Temple by Jesus himself, we’re introduced to a new understanding of the real purpose of the events of those days.
We experience the somber atmosphere of the Passover as Christ shares his last meal with the disciples. We call it Maundy Thursday. Many interpreters trace this term to a Latin word for command or mandate, for it was at this time that Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.”
Our tradition of observing communion dates to this meal where the disciples were told to partake of “My Body, My Blood.” No doubt, they didn’t understand. We have the good fortune of knowing the whole story. They were participants, without a script. Someone has said that The Last Supper is the longest meal in recorded history, that probably someone, somewhere, is partaking of the bread and wine at almost, if not every, moment.
We follow as Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane where he prays and where he is betrayed. We are, once again, saddened and unbelieving as we watch the injustice of the “trial.”
And then it is Good Friday, and we must wonder what is good about it. Some scholars say the term is just a corrupted form of God’s Friday. Others say it is good since without it, there would be no resurrection. Others, laymen of course, say all Fridays are good.
The humiliation of the trek up the Via Dolorosa, through the mockery, the beatings, the torture, a story we’ve heard hundreds of times, seems even more sorrowful with each telling. And as often as we’ve heard the seven words from the Cross, the words still carry their message of promise, forgiveness, humanity, kindness and commitment.
And then it is Easter Sunday, and He Is Risen! Those three words are the very core of our faith.
Whatever our traditions, whatever our many sins and shortcomings, however we choose to worship, this is the bottom line. We hear it from the time we’re born, and all our different man-made, artificial symbols only enforce it.
The bunnies and chicks ooze new life. The eggs carry their precious cargo. The new clothes signify that it’s springtime and the whole world is shouting, “Look at my new wardrobe, my new life after winter’s darkness!” Call it commercial if you wish. Or call it Alleluia.
We all have precious, individual memories of the Easter Sundays in our past. Many traditions from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s (my early years) have been abandoned, or changed, as our culture has undergone transitions from rural to urban, homogenized environments.
There must surely be, somewhere, small towns and communities where most folks know everybody, where one of the three churches in town hold revivals during Holy Week; where all the children in town gather in the city’s only park on the Saturday of Easter weekend for an egg hunt; where little girls still wear brand-new black patent Mary Janes and little boys sport new shirts and ties and fresh haircuts.
Memories of the Easters of my childhood, though, fade in the fresher memories of our three daughters and their early Easters. Perhaps guilty of misplaced values, I admit to taking pride in dressing them as-pretty-as-you-please.
My mother sewed for them, frilly, lacy, multi-gathered outfits to match. They wore cute little hats and white gloves, and they greeted Easter morning with squeals of happiness at discovering baskets of goodies left by the Easter Bunny. (Some folks are more devoted to tradition than others. Our daughter Mary called me on the first Easter morning after her marriage to ask why the Easter Bunny had skipped her. She was serious. She was also the one that complained one Christmas Eve when we got home from candlelight service to find that Santa had brought gifts while we were gone rather than leaving them during the night for the traditional Christmas morning.)
Whatever our memories, whatever our traditions that might change as generations pass, the message remains the same. The end of this chapter of the story never changes.
He is Risen. He is Risen indeed.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.