Friday, April 29, 2016

A Tale Of Many Easters, And The Time I Celebrated In August

The first time I ever celebrated Easter, I mean REALLY celebrated Easter, was in my living room on a hot, sticky Friday afternoon in August.

Let me back up a bit. I am what is sometimes referred to as a "cradle Christian" and consider myself a person of great faith. I've attended Holy Week and Easter services my entire life, usually doing double duty, celebrating the resurrection of Christ as it falls on the Western calendar as well as on the ancient Julian calendar according to the Eastern Orthodox tradition in which I was raised. Occasionally, my worlds collide and both Easter celebrations occur on the same day, but they can be anywhere from one to as much as six weeks apart.

The difference in dates was a great source of frustration for me as a child and even young adult. My scholarly father offered the historical explanation: that the Eastern Orthodox Church, in accordance with the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, adheres to a rule that Easter is to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon, following the vernal equinox, but always after Jewish Passover; while Western churches do not use the astronomically determined date for the vernal equinox, but a fixed date (March 21). And by full moon it does not mean the astronomical full moon but the "ecclesiastical moon," which is based on tables created by the church and may or may not follow Passover. Got that? Me neither. My direct, to-the-point mom had a more Nike-esque answer: because the church says so, we just do it.

But I was still hung up on why we were feasting on lamb at the end of April, when my American friends had long since hunted for eggs and consumed all their jelly beans. Were we not "many parts, but all one body?" Why would we the whole body not be together in this holiest of holy days, the one that truly made us who we are? How could the love of Christ, which "surpasses all understanding" not surpass and transcend the political schism that put members of His family on opposite sides of the same coin?

But let's fast forward a few decades and return to my living room. There I was on that August afternoon, a brand new mom, home alone with my newborn son. My colicky, fussy, wanting-to-eat-all-the-time newborn son. If he wasn't eating, he was crying. Which meant that if I wasn't feeding him, I was probably crying, too.

I tried everything I could think of to comfort him. We went for long walks in the stroller. We snuggled. We swaddled. We bounced. But the only thing that consistently soothed him was music. More specifically, my singing. Now, I can carry a tune, but I am not someone you want to hear in solo concert all the livelong day. But since it seemed to pacify my little one, I did the only thing I could: I sang.

I sang nursery rhymes, children's song, pop music, show tunes- you name it. I sang church hymns in Arabic, church hymns in English, church hymns to which I couldn't remember the words, all the while praying that God would forgive me for my crimes against music and to be my soundtrack on this new and somewhat terrifying path of motherhood.

One day, during a particularly awful crying spell (for both of us), I picked him up, closed my eyes, held him close, and sang the chorus of a hymn that for some reason popped into my head:

We remember how You loved us, to Your death,
And still we celebrate, for You are with us here.
And we believe that we will see You, when You come,
In Your glory, Lord,
We remember, we celebrate, we believe.

At the end of that verse (the only one I knew), I cautiously opened one eye and peeked down at the tiny face clutched to my chest. He was silent...briefly...but after a few seconds, the crying began I sang it again. And again. And again.

I'm not sure how long this went on, but at some point, he fell asleep. I set him down in the swing, buckled him in, and collapsed to my knees. Tears flowed from my eyes as a realization set in: this child had made me into someone new. Someone fiercely protective. Sacrificially giving. Unconditionally loving.

As I knelt down, I looked closely at him, and for the first time, I knew deep in my bones, that should the need arise, I would die for my child.

I watched him swing back and forth and thought about how much I loved him, and how that love was giving me a glimpse into God's heart. How my feelings for this innocent baby were a mere whisper of the love God has for me, and for all His children.

Hot tears stung my eyes and ran down my face as I thought about how He could sacrifice his perfect Son on a torturous cross for the sins of humanity.

I cried that day as I thought about it all: pain and suffering, sin and salvation. I cried for motherhood, and for the Mother of us all who watched her son die. But mostly, I cried for love beyond all comprehension. The love of a parent for a child. The love of the Father for His son.

I cried for Easter.

And all the while, the words from that hymn ran through my head:

We remember how You loved us, to Your death,
And still we celebrate, for You are with us here.
And we believe that we will see You, when You come,
In Your glory, Lord,
We remember, we celebrate, we believe.

I never spoke of that day, not even to my husband, who returned from work to find both of us still asleep: the baby still swinging, and me at his feet, exhausted but at peace on the floor. An ordinary, but extraordinary Friday.

I still pray that one day all of God's family will celebrate Easter together, on the same day- Lord knows we need each other now more than ever. But the different dates don't bother me nearly as much as they used to, because now I truly understand that what matters more than Easter on the calendar is Easter in your heart.

And every time I hear that hymn, every time I see my kids, every time I feel that tug in my heart,

I remember
I celebrate,
I believe.

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