Close to Home:
Under normal circumstances, I would drive ten miles out of my way to avoid the store nearest our home, which happens to provide mammoth sized shopping carts resembling racecars to its shorter, more demanding clientele. But this day was different, these circumstances were anything but normal, I had a grocery list burning a hole in my purse, or more accurately my purple Care Bear back pack, filled with dairy heavy ingredients for making meat laden recipes. I was jubilant, I was drooling, I was unusually permissive, declaring “Yes Ben! Yes Mary! We will stay here in town and I will awkwardly wield any obnoxious racing car cart of your choosing! It was time, really time, to begin celebrating.
In the wee hours of this past Saturday evening with Sunday poised to explode with heavenly brilliance, our choir at St. Elizabeth’s sang slowly and liltingly these words of anticipation:
Do not lament Me, O Mother, seeing Me in the tomb, the Son conceived in the womb without seed; and then, with voices swelling, they, we, declared Christ’s unbreakable promise, for I shall arise, and be glorified; and, as God, I shall unceasingly exalt all who extol Thee in faith and in love.
“Why is it so dark?” asked five-year-old Benjamin who had forgotten from a year ago the order of this sacred service, “When will they turn on the lights?”
“Watch,” I instructed as our priest and deacon came forward from behind the altar with candles lit, passing those two flames on to wicks being held by parishioners until the tiny glow doubled, quadrupled, covering the room like a warm and spreading blanket. “Get your coat on, sweetheart, we are heading outside; when we come back in, it will all look different. Just follow me and you’ll see what I mean.” Hand in hand we merged quickly into the newly formed procession circling our small parish once, twice, three different times before stopping outside the front door. And then officially we affirmed as a congregation, including men, women, and the smallest of children, that the ultimate victory had been procured, that Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life! Feeling the heat off our excitement, Benjamin and his four-year-old cousin, Isabelle, roared this Truth loudly and boldly, absorbing wide-eyed and with fascination the significance of an empty tomb. We re-entered, as I said we would, to white, to light, to shouts of exhilaration and assurance bouncing off of walls with reverberation.
What strikes me every Pascha is the purity of my joy - elation totally free from inhibitions. For when you think about it most good things in our lives come dragging along with them certain morbid possibilities, potentially grave outcomes outside of our control. The giddiness of a pregnancy is linked inexorably with worry over missing limbs, genetic defects, or a complicated delivery. Better paying jobs can mean an increase in responsibilities, stress, or working hours. The titillation of a budding relationship gives way all too soon to anxiety about the other person’s level of commitment. Our mortality has a tendency to poke holes through dreams and plans, deflating blown-up and idealistic notions of what will make us happy and invincible.
They don’t witness it as much as I know they should, the “no strings attached” type of bliss and tranquility I confidently displayed all through the weekend. Our home was filled with fellowship, festivity, and laughter which they ravenously and enthusiastically devoured, my four sweet kids. It makes me second-guess my reactive decision to hold all of my many, many blessings at an arms length lest their unforeseen removal cause me pain- pain I would feel regardless if I’d enjoyed them to the fullest or not. “Oh, I get it,” said nine-year-old Elijah, in reference to the Paschal Troparion, just last week, “by being crucified, Jesus destroyed death.” H-m-m, let’s be honest now, do I understand that in a way that alters noticeably how I function?
As I’ve often said before, I take courage in the fact we are saved as a body, that presently you might also be questioning that third piece of pizza, finally feeling caught up on all your lost sleep, or humming “The Angel Cried” while going about your business. We fasted, we prepared, we despaired of our unworthiness, and then we stood outside at midnight in front of various Orthodox Churches all over this nation, all over this ever shrinking world, announcing with a mixture of gratitude and relief that Christ lives, forgives, and loves us. It wasn’t just me who heard it, saw it, tasted and believed, every one of us present were witnesses of that miracle. In my periods of spiritual famine, your robust faith fills my growling and persistent hunger; when mine overflows like a rain soaked riverbed, God willing, it will help to quench your own thirst for something solid, perfect, and unfailing. We are tongues and grooves made whole and complete by our Trinitarian inspired cohesion to one another. We are individual sparks pulling together our resources to illumine and revive what is dim and cold and dead.
“What did he say?” mouthed the kindly cashier when Benji went on and on about all the special food we were buying for Pascha. So I explained the best I could that we were Orthodox and this was our Easter while she nodded her head approvingly before responding with, “well, now, isn’t that interesting.” But to me, to you, to us who were shopping on that exact same day for many of the exact same items, who were Feasting because hell no longer has dominion over those who cling expectantly to the Cross, the word “interesting” was as appropriate as wearing flannel to a lavish ball. Come now; let us clothe ourselves in the opulence of our Savior’s Resurrection and live it, rejoice in it, proclaim it like we mean it:
Christ is Risen!