Growing up in rural Georgia in the 1970s, I thought of Easter not only as the resurrection of Jesus but as a sign that spring had sprung and it was time for a new Sunday dress, a hat, gloves and more chocolate than I could eat, at least at one time.
My focus was less on the resurrection and new life of Jesus Christ than on standing still while my mother pinned the new dress she was sewing for me to get the right fit, and making sure that our white Mary Janes had been polished with Kiwi white liquid shoe polish -- it often took several coats to get rid of the black scuff marks.
On Easter morning, my sister Kathy and I would wake up before dawn, rush to our Easter baskets, eat a few bites of chocolate, put on our brand new Easter dresses and head out for the sunrise service, with candy stashed in our purses. At this point, it was less about the dress and more about the chocolate.
It seemed as though the services were more bearable since we were able to unwrap the candies during the service and pop them into our mouths in ever-shortening intervals.
As we grew older, we not only grabbed candy out of the Easter baskets but also grabbed the stockings that the Easter Bunny had brought us (in the L'eggs egg container), before getting dressed for church. Eventually, though we stopped wearing hats and gloves and stopped receiving L'eggs, we continued taking candy to church.
My clearest memory as a child of any Easter has nothing to do with candy, but of the beauty of the morning as we celebrated the holy day during a sunrise service on top of a mountain. I'm not even sure where we were. We had gotten up early and driven a while. It was quite chilly, and I had a sweater wrapped around my shoulders.
The woods surrounded us, and the view was of the valley below. Azaleas were in bloom, and the trees were bright green. As the sun rose, fog came up from the ground, nearly obscuring the cross behind the altar. The area surrounding the cross was both hazy and bright: hazy from the fog, bright from the sun. As the sun rose and the fog burned off, the cross became clearer and the colors of the flowers and trees appeared brighter. At the time, the symbol of Jesus' death seemed to contrast starkly and oddly with the new growth of the trees and freshness of the flowers. But now, the juxtaposition of symbols seems perfect.
As a child, I thought Easter was more about Jesus' death and his burial. During the service, I would wonder: What would a crown of thorns feel like? How would Jesus have been able to carry the cross? How could his mother have borne the loss of her son? Jesus' resurrection was, of course, mentioned, but was not something I focused on.
As an adult, find myself spending more time thinking about Jesus' resurrection, what it may have meant to his disciples and what it means to me. Possibly, as the balance of my life becomes shorter and my eventual demise more evident, it is natural to focus on the life hereafter rather than on the death that is approaching.
As our lives here on Earth grow shorter and as we endure changes, we may also uncover conflicting feelings: sadness over what was lost or is now gone, hope for the new life to come.
So it is with my feelings about Easter. The sadness represented by the cross, and Jesus' death juxtaposed against his resurrection and the joy of receiving God's gift of eternal life.
This focus on new life is reinforced in the Northern Hemisphere by the backdrop of spring. It reminds us that Easter is a season of new life, a time to be joyful, thankful for God's gift of eternal life and looking forward in anticipation of what is to come.
And just what is to come? This year, I am looking forward to waking up early, before the first light, walking into the dark outside and awaiting the sunrise, attending service with my family and popping a chocolate into my mouth.