One day so long ago that I don’t remember it I realized that I prefer Easter to Christmas. Christmas has all the fuss and presents and parties, but once you’ve been to church, had dinner and opened presents, what is there? Christmas felt like all expectation and too little fulfillment.
Most of my childhood felt like a dry spell. I was out in the spiritual desert. Other people thought Christmas was the best day of the year. To me it felt like part of the story, but not enough.
Sometime in my twenties the realization came roaring through my soul that I am an Easter boy. In my middle twenties I met some Orthodox Christians and began to learn their spirituality. The seven weeks of Great Lent leading to Pascha (Easter) are observed as a time of real deprivation by many Orthodox. They have no meat in the house, no eggs or dairy. Speaking from personal experience, I can assure you that this does not prevent them from still being fantastic cooks. Every atheist in the world should know what it’s like to go to Sunday coffee after Orthodox liturgy. It’s enough to make you believe God inspires the poorest to greatness.
The Orthodox sense of lenten deprivation, of having the richness of the Divine shielded from their senses, made Easter all the richer. Learning from the Orthodox, I carried this over into my own religious tradition.
Then the sumptuous reds of Palm Sunday and the brilliant whites of Holy Thursday stood out in vivid contrast to the bareness of Good Friday. Friday had none of the sensual feast we expect in the theater of liturgies. The music is plain and unadorned. There are no bells, no organ, nothing but the spare haunting beauty of plain chant. All of this is followed by the sensory overload that is Easter.
If you like a party, go to church on Easter.
The church is filled with flowers. The priests wear gold vestments. There are musical instruments which accompany services only at Easter and Christmas. It is a sumptuous feast.
Whether or not we attend the Vigil service, the Exultet lays out promises for us all.
Darkness has been vanquished.
The Pillar of Fire destroyed sin.
The chains of death are broken.
Not a bad deal to somebody who sees heaven and hell on a daily basis. On a daily basis I can tell you that it is our choice whether or not we accept Light into our lives. We choose whether or not we believe that the Pillar of Fire that led Israel through the Sea has given life to our souls. We can live if we choose to live.
My belief is that this is true for all humanity. It is not necessary to belong to one sect or another. It is necessary to openly free God to live us from the inside out.
Life with God is a pretty good Paschal promise.