... why Easter is special to me
I've never been a bunnies-and-chickies-and-chocolate-eggs kind of Easter person. Easter has always been serious to me, especially the part about "victory over death". Being a seven-year-old child whose father died, ideas about death always intrigued me. Hearing people in church singing, "Where, O Death, Is Now Thy Sting?" made me think that death may not be as bad as I thought it could be.
My mother remarried on Easter weekend, and the honeymoon was spent in New York City. They went to St. Patrick's Cathedral, even though they were not Catholic, and they viewed the Easter Parade of 1943 on Fifth Avenue. My sister and I spent the weekend with two new brothers and a housekeeper in a new house in a new neighborhood. Was this good or bad? I don't remember, so it must have been okay.
The following year our newly blended family had to establish new Easter traditions. It became our custom to get a new item of clothing, not a whole new outfit, but something new. One year my mother crocheted a hat and bag set for my sister and me. One year a vendor came around the neighborhood selling identification bracelets, so jewelry was our new item. Ties were an obvious gift for the males in the family. Every year Pa would say, "Don't buy me a tie. Just have my shoelaces pressed." And everyone got new socks and underwear. I had heard that the early Christians got new robes at Easter, and I wondered if that included socks and underwear?
It was a huge deal for our family to attend the Easter service as a group. Pa had earned his Purple Heart because of a direct hit to the back of his upper thigh, so he was not fond of long sits on hard seats. On Easter the back of our enormous sanctuary was opened to include a balcony, and our family always headed for it. It was squeaky and hot, but the view was excellent.
Being a Baptist Church, the tradition on Easter morning was Baptism. The front of the altar was packed with potted flowers lilies, tulips, daffodils to look like a spring garden. And behind this, dug into the floor and lined with tile, was the baptismal font, large enough for two people to stand in waist deep water. It was amazing to me to watch people enter one side of the font, be baptized under the water, and leave on the other side soaking wet. The explanation was that it was like dying and coming into a brand new life. This really caught my attention.
The year I was twelve, it was my turn to be baptized. We had months of instruction much like a confirmation class. The main difference was that we were being baptized for the first time because we chose to be. Our leaders had lots of experience with young teenagers and knew what we would be like on Easter morning.
A few days earlier, they held a full dress rehearsal without the water. Each of us had a chance to put on a long white baptismal robe, special because around the hem were many weights. The weights clanked and banged as we walked around, especially up and down stairs. What fun for a bunch of twelve-year-olds. Up and down clank, clank, clank. One by one, we rehearsed the baptism with the minister in the empty baptismal font. We walked down four stairs, handed the minister a folded handkerchief which he put over our mouth and nose, and saying the baptismal words, he drew us down under the "water". We then turned and walked up four stairs while the next person got ready.
Easter Sunday morning arrived. I had a bath and fixed my hair, put on my new items, and drove to the church with my family. While they trekked up to the balcony, I went to the changing room to put on my clanky white robe. Suddenly everything got very serious. We were led to the door of the font and could hear the music and words going on in the sanctuary. Finally it was our cue the organist playing "Just As I Am, Thine Own To Be".
The first of our class started down the steps. When my turn came, I knew what to do. I was surprised that the water was warm. As I approached the minister, it became obvious what the weights were for my robe did not billow up to surface of the water, the hem staying down by my feet. The congregation was hidden by the beautiful flowers, but I knew my family could see me. It was a lovely moment just me with my beloved minister telling me that God loved me and that I was now one of Jesus' own people. The music washed over me. The water washed over me.
With this memory still so clear in my mind after so many years, it is quite understandable that bunnies and chickies and chocolate eggs do not symbolize Easter for me.
April 7, 2006