The preacher said on Easter during his sermon that I had been “mega-possessed.” He didn’t say so exactly, but he reminded us that Jesus had cast out “seven demons” from Mary Magdalene, and the number seven when used like that in ancient Semitic times meant “mega” or “super.” She was big-time possessed, and the Lovely K and I figured that my four or five major demons meant that I had been pretty darn messed up. Giving my testimony that night at church in front of 800 of my closest friends, my story played well into that of Mary’s.
Truth be told, that morning – Easter – I woke up and felt little to no spiritual depth.
Easter – mind you, Dear Reader – is my favorite holiday. I like it much more than Christmas, because it is so free of the freneticism and almost addictive spending of money. (Sure, it’s big on saturated fat, but those confectionery Peeps are just so tasty…) I like it more than Thanksgiving, which I like more than Christmas because of its emphasis on family togetherness. And I like it more than Flag Day, which to date has eluded Christendom as a significant time of celebration.
When I was a boy, we used to spend many Easters down in Williamston, North Carolina. My aunt Jane and aunt Sally lived together on Church Street, so named I assumed because it ran alongside the Baptist church. This is where we’d stay. I used to play with a neighborhood boy, Arvin, a name I have yet to encounter north of the Mason-Dixon Line or belonging to anyone born after 1970. We never went to church during those Easter times there, but rather we drank Coca-Colas from 8 oz. bottles on my aunts’ porch, the rhododendron trees on either side of their front walk forming perfect cover for kids’ hideouts during game time.
After I started to follow Jesus, Easter took on a new meaning. It is the defining moment of Christianity: the proposition that Jesus rose bodily from the dead and, because of his being alive, the promise that we, too, will one day rise from the dead to be with him. It is kind of the whole enchilada of the faith, and without it, everything else crumbles. It is therefore, I would argue, more important than Flag Day and all the other holidays.
Last year, Carter and I went to the Saturday night Easter Vigil at church where, in the Anglican tradition, at a certain point in the service, everyone gets to ring bells celebrating the resurrection and shout Alleluia! as loudly and often as they can for about two minutes or so. It is a cacophony of joy. We brought the 4-inch dinner bell that my parents used to have in their apartment. The entire service lasts about 2-1/2 hours, and Carter did quite well, except for the incense.
But this Easter was somehow different.
My heart was darkened. Maybe it was the dread of having to get up in front of people and tell them all my dirt. Maybe it was my having been climbing all-too-slowly out of a depression that started two weeks prior and my desire to “not be found out” as weak, as vulnerable, as…depressed. How, after all, can a Christian be depressed on Easter? Of all times?! Surely this must signal that my faith is not that strong. That I am a sham of a believer. That my charade is over. That this Christianity stuff really doesn’t work. My mind tortured me to consider that my depression on Easter morning would weaken my sons’ faith in Jesus and cast doubts in the Lovely K’s mind as to my mental and emotional stability. Excuse me, I reminded myself, but you have two pill bottles for Depakote and Zyprexa in the medicine cabinet that already answer that last part, sir. In short, I felt like crap. And it was Easter. Of all times. My favorite holiday.
To help, I took the boys out to the playground before lunch, so that K could hide the eggs in our apartment for our family Easter egg hunt. (Yes, I believe Christians can hunt for eggs on Easter and still hold that Jesus rose from the dead. I can’t find any Scriptural conflict for these two things.) This gave me fresh air but still left me the same: depressed with a little spring wind burn. I came home and after the hunt I tried to nap in my chair in front of a Mets-Cardinals pre-season baseball game. That part was somewhat easy.
It wasn’t until we sat in church together, the five of us, up close on the right side of the sanctuary. The service we go to – our church holds five on normal Sundays; it did six on Easter – is a jazz service, with a snappy prologue and spiffed up hymns. Yesterday, they were doing a Pat Metheny piece in the beginning, which I allowed my mind and heart to drift along into. The pianist, who was the leader, motioned with his head back to the bass guitar player and the brass players, and the lead guitarist up front did a riff that I’d gladly have paid a cover charge to hear, as the pianist’s wife did a scat on the mic along with the guitarist. I felt my mind easing and lilting along with the melody. By the time the assistant pastor opened us with a meditation on how a man who was buried with an acorn in his hand led to an oak tree growing from beneath a tomb and breaking through concrete slabs, and how this was symbolic of Jesus’ life breaking through the stranglehold of death, I was starting to remember why I love Easter so much. I was still a bit apprehensive of getting up to the mic for my testimony, but I let myself be carried with the beauty of the song, of the prayers, of the congregation there to either celebrate Jesus’ miraculous rising or – as was the case with many there – investigate the claims of this faith.
In other words, at some point, I stopped thinking about myself and started to worship.
When I had successfully forgotten about myself and my stage fright, I was happy.
photos: umberto, klsa12