He is Risen? Was that TODAY?

This post is mostly for those that are LDS, which is short for Latter-Day Saints, which is itself short for Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is what everyone who is not LDS (and, let’s face it, most people that are) call Mormons.  It will be perfectly intelligible to those that are not members, but it will be especially harsh on those that are.  You’ve been warned.

So we’re at church yesterday.  It was Easter, after all.

No, wait.  We’re at church every Sunday.  Anyway we were at church, and I was out in the hall with Gabriel getting a drink, and some people walked by and I wished them a happy Easter.  They smiled and said, “Oh, that’s right!  It is Easter.  We forget, you know, since we don’t have any little children around.”

You will be so proud of me that I did not say, “Naturally.  You’d forget about the single most important event in the history of history because you didn’t have little plastic pastel eggs to remind you.  Entirely understandable.”

Let me repeat.  I did NOT say that.  I didn’t say anything.  But I thought it, and I’ve thought it a lot over the years, that Easter is the most underappreciated of all the holidays.  People talk about Mother’s Day being kind of a bad way to celebrate mothers, and I don’t necessarily disagree.  But on Mothers Day we will have five talks about mothers and a whole primary section of songs about mothers and at the end we’ll have little appreciative tokens (like tomato plants, or flowers or candy) for the mothers.

Whereas, and not for the first time, we went through the entire sacrament meeting without the word “Easter” being spoken.  The only reference to it was my having the choir sing a special number.  We sang Joy to the World, which is, as far as I’m concerned, the best Easter song there is, except maybe the Halelujah Chorus.  Perhaps not coincidentally, another song we also sing exclusively at Christmas.  But I digress.

Easter is the reason that Christmas makes any difference at all.  Children were born before Jesus, you know.  A lot of them.  Births are worth celebrating, surely; we do some of that our own selves.  I like celebrations of all kinds.  The hoopla surrounding the birth of Christ is wonderful, and I love it as hard as the next guy, but really, the birth is just…a birth.  Even if the mother was a virgin, which, admittedly, doesn’t happen every day.  EVEN SO.  That’s worth, what, a National Enquirer article?  It’s a baby.  Born into some obscurity and relative poverty.  An unusual child, certainly, but no matter how you slice it, it’s not the birth that mattered.

Whereas, all of those children that were born died, eventually.  How many of those dead people rose again?

None of them.  Easter is the first time that happened.  THAT is worth celebrating.  Then, even better, because Jesus in rising from the dead became the Christ, the Redeemer, the Savior of the World, all of us get to do the same at some point, so that death is not the end and our lives do not have to be a story of separation and loss.  We can go Home again.

If Jesus fails, then there is no Easter.  But then there isn’t any Christmas, either.  Not going to be much point in being a Christian, is there, if there’s no Christ.  The entirety of our religion, of all Christian religions, is encompassed in this: that Christ died for us, and rose on the third day, that we, too, might live.  That’s the entire point of this religion.

So forgive me if I become slightly annoyed that you can be standing in the hallway of a church building, upon which is written the name of the Lord Jesus, about to go into a meeting the name of which is in reference to the body and blood of Christ, telling me that you forgot it was Easter because nobody was around to get all shrieky about Peeps and plastic grass.

I won’t hit you.  I’ve absorbed that much of my lessons.  But I’ll wonder what you’re doing there, as Heaven is my witness I will.

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I’ll be the one to say it: the LDS are absolutely awful at Easter.  We, of all the Christians, understand the reality of the resurrection of Christ in a visceral, undeniable way, and we are by far the worst at celebrating it.

If you’re LDS, you know that the place where our religion breaks with most other Christian faiths is the reality of the physical, necessary resurrection, not just of ourselves, but of Christ as well.  The resurrection should be the most celebrated event in our faith, because it is one of the raisons d’etre of our faith.

Growing up in Virginia, I wasn’t exactly surrounded by Mormons.  I went to all sorts of other churches, and liked most of them.  I like religion.  I think it’s great.  At Easter, I got to see a lot of ways to celebrate, because my high school singing group was asked to perform at a lot of them (I have to emphasize this – we were very good).  I went to Methodist sunrise service and Catholic mass and you name it.  Easter was a great holiday for that.  Music everywhere.  Festivities.  Real celebrations – and why not?  The Christ resurrected is the whole point of Christianity.  It’s worth mentioning, you know, when it comes about.

In Hungary, we adopted a protestant custom that I love to this day, wherein you greet people at church not by saying “jo reggelt” (good morning) or “szervusztok” (essentially, hey there, how you doin’), but by saying “Feltámadott! (He is risen!), to which the answer is “Igy van” (it is so) or, my favorite, “Ahogy mondott.” (As He said.)  But we had to steal this from the Calvinists, because there really aren’t Easter traditions in the LDS church.

You can say that’s because of the Puritan strain that runs like a chocolate ribbon through the Fudge Ripple of our religious ice cream.  Perhaps.  That doesn’t stop Santa Claus from appearing at Christmas parties, does it?  It doesn’t stop us from having ward-wide trunk-or-treats and spook alleys at church, among a host of things I find almost impossible to believe.  We have stake dances (if you’re not LDS, just go with it, we’re nearly done with the jargon).  We have wedding receptions in our cultural halls (that’s the last one, I promise).  We dance and sing and celebrate all sorts of things, just not the most important thing there is to celebrate.

It’s worse than that.  The Messiah, which the very name of says Easter, is now a Christmas piece, which would have flummoxed Handel.  In the LDS hymnbook, home to 348 pieces of music, how many are dedicated to Easter?  Four.  We’re not even trying, people.  Our Easter sacrament meetings are essentially indistinguishable from every other week of the year.  It is possible to go through the entire day without hearing the word Easter at all.  I shouldn’t have to mention that that is categorically impossible in every other church in the whole of Christendom.

And don’t give me the crap about Easter having been co-opted by the Easter Bunny.  When I start seeing egg-coloring dye in the stores on January 3, then you can tell me that Easter has been over-commercialized.  Christmas gets celebrated with festivals of all kinds thrown by our people, despite the routine appearance of the Jolly Round Elf.  If we wanted to, we’d celebrate Easter.  But we don’t.

I find this incredibly sad.

NOTE: those of you that are of other faiths, or other branches of the same Christian faith, here’s an opportunity to do the mote and the beam thing, and see if your faith traditions actually enshrine what you believe to be central to your beliefs.  If you have no work to do there, congratulations, but I bet you do.

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No problem without a solution, eh?  So I do have a couple of suggestions.

Yesterday my mother put together an Easter program with our family.  We had a set of scriptures read by the boys of the family that were of age, followed by the girls singing “Did Jesus Really Live Again?” a lovely primary song.  It was a very nice little program, and it helped.  You can do that kind of thing, too.

We never have Easter egg hunts on the Sabbath.  I don’t myself see how that activity is even remotely Sabbath-worthy, but if you do, I invite you to consider making a change.  It’s just a suggestion.  Saturdays work great for those things.  We do color eggs as a family, and that’s a fun activity, but of course that’s not what we do on Sunday.  You don’t have to eliminate everything culturally fun about Easter to be able to focus on the point of the holiday.  You can decorate a tree, you can decorate eggs.  Same principle.

Also, yesterday I came home from church and fired up the Messiah, starting at about the 18th section.  At that point you’ve gotten the birth announcement out of the way and we’re to the part about Jesus being the Savior, not just a baby.  You get to keep the Halelujah Chorus, too (it’s section 39, not anywhere near the Christmas part), so that’s nice, and you can really dig in to the Amen at the end, which is the best part of the oratorio.  I’ll do that again, and one of these years, we’re going to do the full-blown Messiah sing-in on Easter week.  You’re all invited.

My sisters made resurrection rolls this week.  You can judge for yourself, but the kids liked it.  No doubt you have suggestions of your own, and I’d be thrilled to hear them.  We can reverse this, people.  We can bring Easter back to its rightful place at the center of our Christian worship.  In fact, I think we must.

We’re going to see dark times.  We are going to be challenged, and we are going to be threatened, and we are going to die.  As people, and each of us individually, we are going to have these things come to us, and I testify to you that Christmas will not be enough to save us.  No, we are each of us going to have to go to Gethsemane and Golgotha, not just Bethlehem.  Without the promise of the Garden Tomb, where will we find the strength to believe that horror and death give way to joy and life eternal?  That they have given way, that they must give way, in the end?

We find that strength in Easter, in the reality of the Risen Lord, else our faith is vain, and we are of all men most miserable.  Here is a fervent prayer that we will do some work toward restoring that greatest of all events to the center of our faith, where it will do as Christ promises, becoming a well of living water, springing up to everlasting life and joy eternal.

Feltámadott!

5 Responses to “He is Risen? Was that TODAY?”

  • Jill says:

    I sense a new tradition coming on… and you can count me IN!!! I think having a Messiah sing-along every EASTER would be so much cooler than Christmas! People aren’t nearly as busy in the Spring as at Christmas! In the fall, we’ll start planning.

  • Janille Stearmer says:

    Our ward had a fabulous Easter program – the Primary sang “Gethsemane” and the ward choir did 3 other pieces, including “Savior.” 2 talks on the Atonement and Resurrection….it was great. This is out here in Ohio, but our last ward in Springville, Utah also had a strong musical tradition for Easter.

    People do need to get the focus back to where it belongs. But I am one of those people that would skip Halloween all together and spend a month on Thanksgiving.

  • diana banana says:

    I would like to give us a little more credit though, we do celebrate, talk about, and remember the Atonement, and Christ on a weekly basis, whereas other churches (albeit mostly their members) only take the time twice a year. That is something….not nothing.

  • chrisjones says:

    This is undeniably true. I thought about that some as I wrote this. We do, absolutely, commemorate the atonement and the resurrection far more often the rest of the year than anyone else I know of, and I should acknowledge that.

    Mormon culture eschews the big celebration in favor of the quiet, everyday joy of service. It leads to all sorts of interesting things, which would be a good subject for another post.

  • Catherine says:

    Yes, it would. I have thought about joy a lot recently. Namely that I don’t know that LDS people do a very good job of feeling or portraying the joy that the gospel gives. I certainly feel that I don’t. However, in defense of LDS Easter Sacrament meetings, the one in Draper was very Easter-y.

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