What if we held Easter and everyone showed up except the Christians?
“They didn’t show up, so we’re pretty much making it up as we go along,” the young woman said.
She was sitting with a few others in a small circle centered on a glowing lantern dug into the sand. Its bright light was the focal point for the make-shift concentric swirls of a growing crowd who had gathered for the Easter Sunrise service at Siesta Key Beach. People were still making their way slowly, in twos and threes, along the walkway from the parking lot onto the soft, moonlit sand. They wore sweatshirts and caps, were wrapped in towels and blankets, carried beach chairs and spread out blankets and held the hands of children. All in the chilly pre-dawn darkness to the drumbeat of the waves, as we prepared for the sunrise of Easter Sunday.
There is just something about Easter that makes you feel like you need to come in person. Especially this year. Oh, how valiantly groups scurried to deliver remote Easter services, productions and greetings in 2020. But this year is different. This year, we know how to gather safely. Out of doors. In small family groups. Six feet apart. This year I could come in person. How I delighted in that thought after a year of absence from in-person worship.
Until I heard this young woman acknowledge there was no planned service. Now, what I had seen and heard was starting to make sense.
The cars leaving the lot when I pulled in at 6:20am. The small groups congregating with their associates in front of the pavilion and going no further. The three singers standing in the dark trying to begin a sing-along where no one else was singing. “Tell us what you’d like to sing,” they tried, cell phones illuminating their faces as they searched the lyrics and sang (honestly, not terribly on pitch) acapella. “Ok! Verse 4! Amaazziiing Graacee, how sweeeet the sounnnd.”
Normally, this Easter Sunrise service was organized as an outreach by a nearby Presbyterian church. Apparently this year, “out of an abundance of caution” (if I never hear those words again, it will be too soon!), it had been canceled. These brave souls were gonna make it Easter, anyway!
Not me. Not proud of this, but not me. Not like this. After the weak effort at hymn singing and then hearing the woman admit there was no plan for this service, I packed up my beach chair and headed nearer the oceanside. I could surely offer my thanks to God for Easter by the thrum of the waves, and get an even better view of the sunrise from there. Looking back at the congregated, I did marvel at the many — perhaps 100 or more — who stayed, determined to worship together anyway.
What a missed opportunity to proclaim the risen Christ, I thought, safely from a distance. How many of those who had come or who had come and then left in disappointment really needed to hear this message or might even have heard it for the first time? I mean, who gets up at 5:15am if they’re not serious about this whole Jesus thing?
Alas, if I was… Stevie or Patty or Steve or Don or Sarah or Tom or Rob or Marey … perhaps it would have been different. All of these people have, over the course of this last year, provided excellent Christian nourishment for my soul, by media in its various forms. And they have spoiled me. Here, when faced with the amateur version, I’m out. God bless those who stayed.
For my part, I did commune with the waves. I watched the gulls gather and sing from their choir lofts in the shallows. I marveled at the pinks reflected in the sky and the birds delighting in the sun’s first new rays. I greeted walkers-by, calling Happy Easter on occasion, when it seemed safe to say so. I silently thanked the many individuals with large trash bags who swept through picking up human discards from the beachfront, caring for the earth over which we have been given dominion.
But was this worship? Was this even Easter?
Silently, I departed, after marking the official sunrise at 7:17 am. The clouds overhead promised it would be a good one – lots of rays reflected early over the new day. As I drove into our neighborhood, I nearly screeched to a stop. I couldn’t help my intake of breath when I saw the poor lifeless bunny sprawled across the roadway. Oh, I thought, not on Easter. And then, What if some poor child returned from Easter services only to find the Easter Bunny lying dead on the ground?
As I pulled into my driveway I realized what I surely needed to do.
I gathered some supplies and walked back to the sad scene where the rabbit’s body still lay, its side pierced, its eyes sunken and lifeless. With some difficulty I managed to lift him, remarkably heavy and still warm. I carried his body to an out-of-the-way place and laid him gently under the hedge. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, Easter Bunny. After shoveling a bit of mulch and a few leaves over him, I pronounced a brief word of thanks, in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Saddened, I turned to return home along the paved walkway when a small, chocolate brown bunny caught my eye. He nibbled at the green grass in the shade of a nearby bush, apparently, unconcerned about my presence. Once satisfied, he hopped away out of sight.
And it was Easter.
Did I go back to the burial site to check under the hedge? Not yet.
Update: I did go back and the bunny body was gone. Did the caretaker remove it? Did a predator discover it? Did it rise in new life? I can’t say for sure. What do you think?
“You don’t actually believe all that crap, do you?”
There is a good bit of historical record from the time of Jesus. Archaeological. Temples. Cities. Edifices. But unlike the way those today would proclaim their King-dem, the life Jesus led would not be signaled in artifact or chiseled into stone. The life Jesus lived is etched in all of time and for all time. It lasts as we last to tell it. It's reborn in us each Christmas. Rediscovered with each birth of new life -- in us -- And renewed with each loving act. Holy crap! What was that? I didn't know I had it in me.
Looking for Signs of New Life
It’s that time of year again; trees a-flowering, flowers a-budding, buds a-popping, all giving way to the greening of leaves in canopies across the land.
Well, across the temperate land.
Here in Central Florida, everything stays green all year round. The palms, shrubs, and grasses wave happily in the constant breezes. Even cacti thrive in the sandy soil. What’s missing here is color, specifically, the diversity of color.
So, my green-thumbed husband ripped out all the scraggly (but green, to be sure) shrubs, replacing them with vibrantly colored flowers. What a happy difference! On St. Patrick’s day, he brought home “Paddy,” who wound merrily through a trellis that would allow her to climb up and along the bare side of our house.
Isn’t she lovely? Full of pastel pink flowers with stems intertwined, clambering up the wooden scaffolding?
But this is Paddy today. (My apologies to my friend Patty, in whose honor we named this beautiful new planting.)
She has dropped nearly all of her flowers. As I water her, and yes, whisper bits of encouragement, I search longingly for some new stems, new buds, or a bit of greening – just some signs of new life! But they are hard to find.
Paddy is suffering from transplant shock, my husband tells me. Common in plants that are uprooted and transported to new accommodations, they need time to get used to things and decide whether their new soil will be conducive to their needs. Life looks a bit bleak in the mean time.
Ironic, because given the size and plenty of the greenery here, I thought everything flourished. It seemed an everlasting spring. Apparently, I was wrong. The warm winter months which give way to warmer spring days are only the prelude to the hot, dry summer. If your roots don’t find good soil and plentiful water now, there’s not much hope for your future.
I guess that’s why the change of seasons are so important: a time to plant, a time to grow, a time to harvest, and a time to lay fallow. The seasons graciously allow us to send down our roots, grow up our stems, show forth our flowers and … and… and… to withdraw to gather our resources in times of hardship and prepare for the seasons that lay ahead.
Transplant shock, the product of our uprooting and the stark presentation of a new way of life, is jarring. Make no mistake: the buds on those trees which are now timidly unfurling and introducing themselves to new branches at new heights are the bravest of the brave. What courage it takes to strike out into the spring, come what may.
I am hoping Paddy will make it if I keep giving her some tender loving care. We have a certain camaraderie, she and I. Neither of us does transition very well, but our Maker knows this about us. We may not always show well in spring training; that’s our time to grow.