In the spring of 1971, when I was nine years old, my mind was occupied with visions of large plastic baskets filled with shiny cellophane grass and, hopefully, all the milk chocolate and jelly beans in the entire world. Easter was just around the corner, and life was about to get delicious.
I also knew in the back of my mind that the adults were preparing for something religious, something which experience had taught me was going to require me to be uncomfortably kneeling for large portions of the morning. No matter. Eventually, mass would be over, and I would be given free rein to search about the house until the coveted basket was discovered, and I could spend the rest of the afternoon happily raising my glucose levels. I had my Easter priorities, as the adults had theirs. And theirs, mysteriously, was expressed in fashion.
Easter, it seemed, was all about The Holy Outfit. Dad and my older brothers were grudgingly shoehorned into pinstriped suits with starched Oxford collars around clip on ties. Shoes had to be polished and shiny enough that you could see a reflection in the bulge where the little toe rubbed. Mom’s new floral dress was suitably modest and mid-calf, while I was given a starchy flouncy little number that itched the backs of my knees. My white hat with the daisy ribbon, made from the same woven plastic as the basket would be, was firmly bobby pinned to my head. Even the priest at the altar was dressed in shining white. Holiness glared off his stole like sun on a windshield.
Once at church, I could see that other families were in similar standing – festooned in taffeta and silk, rayon and polyester, stealthily rubbing ankles, necks and wrists to relieve the itch of new clothes from Sears and JC Penney. Men took their hats off, women ran a hand alongside their hair, checking that their hats would survive a cat 5 hurricane. The poor men and women with allergies took out new starched handkerchiefs to ward off the fragrance of lilies. Respect and decorum in every row. Yes, I thought, this is Easter.
And it was, for a long time. And then, it seems suddenly, it wasn’t.
As I watched the crowds shuffle in last Sunday, I saw very few Easter bonnets, but I did see baseball caps. Some suits, but an equal number of khakis and jeans. Some tee shirts, some sneakers, too. A scuffed pair of Birkenstocks and bare toes. Some kids with cell phones, texting in their seats. One impressive beige Stetson. And so many sleeveless dresses, some with visible bra straps! My parents, God bless them, would have been terribly confused. What Easter looks like this?
And then it occurred to me to ask the question more deeply. What, indeed, does Easter look like? And from whose perspective?
From the outside world, it looks like a Sunday with reservations for brunch. From the pew, it looks like a religious observance that faithful people try to bring all the family to at least once a year. From the kids, it looks like a waiting game for plastic eggs and candy. But what about from God’s perspective? Does it give him joy? Is he bored? Disappointed? Triumphant?
I’d like to think it gives him glory, but it’s more likely it just makes him chuckle. We are working so hard to earn his love, get some brownie points, do the right thing, be respectful, protect the sanctity of our worship, praise his name, get the notes right, remember the salient points of the sermon, clear the parking lot for the next hour, pick up the kids from Sunday school, be on time for brunch, and above all, check the “holy” box for the day.
“Let the little children come to me,” he said, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
I’d like to think that I am more mature now than I was at age nine, but in fact, in God’s eyes, I probably haven’t changed all that much, and I suspect neither have any of us. Like a little kid, I still want to be known for being good, for having the correct answer, or attitude, or even the right Easter outfit. I want the holy pat on the head of approval. Like a little kid, I look around, not wanting to be stared at but desperately wanting to be noticed for somehow being RIGHT. I want everything to be fair, and familiar. I want it to look the same as it always did. I want it frozen in time. If I had to wear an itchy dress, well then, those little girls now should, too, right? And if my brother had to wear a suit and tie, why does your brother get to wear a baseball cap and jeans?
Hence, the chuckle of God. God is a father who knows his kids very well – and loves us anyway. We’re the little children, coming to him and bumping gracelessly into each other when we come into the church. We’re even thinking about lunch afterwards, which is not a far cry from my nine-year-oldish obsession with chocolate. We’re the ones looking backwards with nostalgia and forward with dread, and God is sitting right here in the middle of it, bemused by our confusion. “Kids, why be in the past, when its gone? Why hurry into a future you have no control over? Why not just be here, in the warm welcome of My presence?” And much as I hate to admit it, I’m pretty sure he also doesn’t really care what we’re wearing, anymore than he cared what the kids were wearing as the apostles tried to shoo them off his lap. He made it pretty clear from the beginning: nobody’s got it absolutely right, and everybody’s welcome.
Easter, I think, looks like a family gathering of kids who are deeply loved and haven’t got a clue. And yet, he says of such as these is the kingdom of heaven.
So I tell myself, relax. Don’t bust your brain trying to understand. Settle in. Take a deep breath. Cut yourself some slack. Cut those folks some slack, too. The glory of the Lord surrounds us, even when taffeta and pinstripe does not. I didn’t wear my Easter hat this year, and somehow, he is still risen indeed. It’s not fair, but I am still welcome and so are you, and so are they. There’s plenty of room, so skootch in, we’ll all fit just fine.
After all, the Easter parade has many members, and all of them are beautiful.