Building Easter brick by brickApril 18, 2017
Every Easter, bar one, for the last 17 years of my life I’ve been able to walk into Sunnyside church and proclaim Christs resurrection surrounded by faces who have journeyed alongside me. It changed this year. It was the first Easter we didn’t travel and I’d be lying if I said the prospect didn’t feel like heartbreak back in December when we bid England goodbye. Even back then my heart already longed for the red chairs of Sunnyside and the mice in blankets breakfast.
This year more than ever I knew that I’d need to create a sense of Easter. I needed to find a way of building the season, intentionally, purposefully and concretely both for my head and my heart. Traditions, however weak, ground us, anchor our seasons and when they evaporate into plane trails we get a chance to evaluate them, reject, assume or develop them.
To make life a touch easier orthodox Easter was on the same day so at least it wouldn’t be a random Sunday when everything went on as usual. It promised a day of family and cracking hard boiled eggs while presents were uncovered the Easter bunny had left behind. Beyond that my canvass was scratched with biblical trails and liturgical clues. I love the spin of the church year so I decided that my Easter preparations must start with lent.
It’s really easy to skip lent. To arrive on Palm Sunday with all the joy and try and cram all the deep and often dark stuff into that tiny week which ends in the greatest darkness being broken by the purest light… but those wiser than me thought perhaps it needed a bit more time to approach the cross and tomb, I’m inclined to agree. I scratched together a lent walk from half a pizza box and hole punch. I like tangible things, they focus me and help me see a journey to the end. It’s heavily based on the wooden cradle to cross spiral wreaths. Every day I moved that little figure and imagined that cross, those dusty streets, that long walk. By the time Easter Saturday came it felt like I’d almost always carried it, always been so close to the one who shared my load.
As holy week approached my mind started to travel back then though Easter traditions I’d known – Simnel cake, Easter bonnets, Egg hunts, yellow and white decorations, little lambs, chicks and bunnies, eggs and more eggs, blown eggs, painted eggs, hard boiled eggs rolled down hills, chocolate, oh the chocolate, Passover meals and hot cross buns, dawn services and Easter gardens, fresh cut flowers in baskets and bouquet, holy week services and the long pause of Easter Saturday. I picked them up and examined them in my mind. What would prepare me spiritually and physically for this season?
A Holy week journey is something I’ve done a few years now. I use the JWL resource and always seem to receive a lot from following and adapting it’s childlike biblical simplicity. I was eager to keep the spiritual side rather than overindulge in chocolate eggs or toilet roll bunnies, both of which we managed to do anyway. Monday starts with a simple felt coin purse into which we count coins then fling them on the ground. It is such a low key and simple way to start and yet somehow my heart jumped at items I could grip in my hands. I looked on the weeks familiar symbols and started to see how they could become my stepping stones to lead me on. Tuesday we made oil lamps out of play dough, pushing the candles deep and watching them flicker before blowing out foolish maids candles, they were not prepared, but suddenly I felt I was beginning to be. Even when Wednesday fell by the wayside my footing did not falter.
I’d struggled with Thursday, the original focus was Eucharistic but how could I do something like that with a toddler? Then Passover dawned in my head, the original meal. For the first time, in a long time, I roasted meat and tried to make unleavened bread. It was lovely and so poignant to tear that flat bread and wrap it round the meat, and quite too tasty for my expanding waistline! Friday I upper my game and went big with homemade sweet hot cross buns. I’m storing the recipes, treasuring the photos. We added in cardboard eggs dabbed in paint, Easter nests and coloured parchment paper cut into delicate chicks and bunnies and lambs.
Saturday my Lent journey sat complete, nothing more than an empty cross in the centre. A huge bunch of beautiful fresh flowers sat centre on the table and as Adam fell asleep I strung up the words ‘He is risen’ and laid the table with a candle and basket of Easter treats – a few chocolate eggs and bunnies. I’d found myself a chocolate egg too, well something don’t need to change.
I stood in Vera’s kitchen on Easter afternoon after we’d played the game of cracking eggs and eaten our feast. She told me how it was the first day of Easter for her and I realised that for me Easter day is the grand finale, it’s the fireworks at the end of the long and often gruelling show, a finale this year I’d dreaded but believe I may come to treasure.
Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
A trail unseen (follow)March 24, 2017
When I first heard I would be going to Serbia I travelled up to Nottingham to meet a woman who had some a similar trip some five years before. If memory serves she had stayed in the house of a local minister and her experience had been fostered in that communion of a church family. The effect the trip had taken on her was clearly visible and while it gave me some broad brushstrokes for my preparation prayers, the realisation, even at that time, was that my visit would be immeasurably different. I left with clear knowledge that this encounter would provide me with no road-map for my travels.
It’s a simple desire with many who travel to wish for a road-map in advance, and the longer you spend living between cultures the more you realise the simultaneous futility and terrible need for one to be given. For many on mission trips the road-map is presented, to some extent at least, within the organisation they go to serve within. For others, the mission itself is undefined, to draw a map or simply traverse the land. We imagine this trail unseen, undiscovered, not yet laden with footprints, not yet cleared with human traffic. We paint ourselves explorers lead by God’s great call, when in reality we are stumbling forward hoping God will use wherever we land.
In the the messy daily gritty-ness of living we can find ourselves aching for the guidance a road map may bring, a need to feel in some way routed and not totally clueless on where we should be going. On basic level it’s a control craving, to live with more certainty and less reliance on that faith that got us here in the first place.
As I follow my saviour on the long 40 day Lenten journey to the cross I simultaneously walk a pathway well worn, with smooth stones and prayers untold held in the memory of every speck of dust, while continuing on the pathway of everyday which seems to hold no fixed destination nor plot any course. The two hold each up upright, the certainty and the security of one breathe stability and flexibility in the other. It is only through trusting faith we can slowly become less about pursuing the way forward through the undergrowth and more about following the sound of that faint whisper, searching it out.
I know even as I move that my path is not direct, my route not efficient, rather it is like a child’s innocent dance – it swirls and falters and it’s elegance is equally clumsy. I move littering the ground as I pass with echo’s of my presence. Easily I fall pray to relying on my own council, my own image of the divine becomes both a comfort blanket and justification for stomping over the ground with such bad grace. I may snap twigs and trample undergrowth, weaken bridges or clear pathways, I may cause ripples of conversations and interrupt others. But the call beckons me to keep on towards a light, a whisper, a radiance of power that words can not contain. I follow those dusty sandals that lead me up Golgotha’s hill, those ancient words that open up wells that quench thirsty souls, than indescribable that calls me to come. Perhaps my trail may never be a pathway for another soul but really that was never the point, perhaps I’ll turn round to realise that as I followed I lost my own way completely without even realising it.