An Ancient Kind of Easter

It’s Saturday, the day between death and resurrection.

Two thousand years ago, Holy Saturday was a day of stillness, uncertainty, grief, and the kind of emptiness that couldn’t have been fathomed a few weeks earlier. However, for most of us modern people, the Saturday before Easter has come to mean hustle and bustle and preparation. Hard-boiled eggs to dye, plastic eggs to fill, and both kinds of eggs to hide-and-seek. Brightly-colored baskets to stuff with brightly-colored grass and candy. Presents to wrap. Kids trying on last year’s loafers, and last minute trips to the shoe store for a larger size. All of it preamble to the following day’s celebratory gatherings in churches and homes across the world.

This year, though, the day between death and resurrection feels much more like that ancient Saturday.

A pandemic has rendered this year’s Holy Saturday a more somber one. We have grown still and uncertain once again, in a way that was unfathomable just a few weeks ago. A sense of grief has been restored to this day of mourning. The space between the crucifixion and the celebration feels empty once more. For the first time in centuries, not only are we observing the death of Jesus on Good Friday, but we are also living in the absence of Easter.

Or at least the absence of Easter as we’ve come to know it.

Over the last two-thousand years, Easter has gathered an aura about it. It’s become a magnificent, joyful celebration of triumph over death, an exultant rewriting of the conclusion to the human story. It has been marked by ecstatic exclamations of, “He is risen!” and the faithful replying with equal fervor, “He is risen, indeed!” Easter morning has become a mountaintop experience, the promise of eternity condensing into a single sunrise.

This year, there will be very little of that.

We cannot come together in our churches to sing with one another, nor gather in our homes to break bread with one another. Plastic Easter eggs are hard surfaces on which the virus might live for days, perhaps even weeks, so Easter egg hunts have been cancelled. This year, it’s going to be easy to feel as if Easter isn’t really happening at all, as if resurrection has been conquered by quarantine. The virus has taken so much from us. Now, it’s taking Easter, too.

Maybe, though, we can take it back.

As Holy Saturday darkens and then brightens into Easter morning, what if we took this opportunity to remember that the original Easter has been disguised by two-thousand years of ornamentation? It’s been tweaked, over and over again. It has drifted little by little into something glorious and grand. This year, more than ever, what if we celebrated the resurrection by trying to remember that this is how that first Easter really went?

It was a quiet, confusing mess…

A small group of women show up at a tomb on a Sunday morning to care for the body of their beloved rabbi. They are grieved by the tomb’s emptiness. They assume the body has been stolen. Angels appear, announcing joyfully that his body isn’t stolen, it’s risen. Nothing is as they expected. They are so discombobulated that when they are greeted by their beloved rabbi, they fail to recognize him at first. With dawning awareness that their worlds have changed for good, though, they go tell the rabbi’s inner circle of his apparent resurrection from the dead. The friends are scared at first, then confused, then mostly disbelieving. One friend named Thomas is so doubtful that when the rabbi actually shows up, in the flesh, Thomas refuses to believe it’s him until he can press his hands into the wounds of that very flesh.

The bewilderment and disorientation don’t end there, though.

The rabbi appears to two old friends as they walk a long road between towns. He talks with them for a while, and then breaks bread with them, but it isn’t until the he departs that it finally occurs to them that they’ve seen the risen Christ. Similarly, he appears on the shore as his friends are out at sea fishing, and they fail to recognize him until he duplicates a miracles he’s previously worked. Then they rush to shore, and what do they do? They don’t gather in great crowds to sing at the top of their lungs the good news, as we did on Easter morning in the year of our Lord 2019. Nor do they give gifts of chocolate and marshmallow and bicycles and iPhones. They don’t cook more food than any family could possibly consume, nor search for colored eggs. No, they do two simple things. They eat a quiet breakfast together.

And three times, they vow companionship with one another.

So, tomorrow morning, if you wake on this strange, quarantined Easter day, and your life feels discombobulated, if some places in your life feel emptier than they should be, if it feels like important things have been stolen from you, if some of the angels in your life are overwhelming you with their exultations, if for a while you fail to recognize the risen Christ in the ones you love most, if you feel confused and disbelieving and doubtful, if you go for a walk with your beloved so distractedly that you don’t realize until it’s over that you’ve missed it altogether, if you need a miracle to get your feet back on solid ground, if you have a quiet breakfast with your people, and if, perhaps, you look at one another and vow a little bit of companionship through whatever lies ahead, well then, you aren’t missing out on Easter.

In fact, you are celebrating an ancient kind of Easter.

Tomorrow, our family is going to wake up and we will stubbornly do some very modern things. My daughter’s Easter dress was bought a month ago, when the world was still spinning, so we’re going to wake up and we’re going to get dressed in our Sunday best. The boys’ hair will get slicked down. We’ll go outside to take the same photo we take every year—the five of us looking pasty and winter-white in the new spring light, a few buds on the trees behind us. We’ll be in less of a hurry than last year, though. Church will start when we start it and it will be what we make of it. I’m thinking we’ll do it the way they did church around Easter two thousand years ago. We’ll gather together on solid ground for a humble little breakfast. Then,

we’ll look at each other,

and we’ll vow three times,

to be each other’s companions,

through whatever may come our way,

and that will be enough resurrection for one day.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable, and his next book, True Companions, will be published in 2021.