Sunday, March 23, 2008

Hallelujah! Christ Arose!

The Easters of my childhood could not be more different than those of my children. As a "Preacher's Kid," those Sundays in early spring of the '60's and '70's recall new patent leather shoes, pastel dresses, hats, and little white gloves. Easter lilies adorned the house, with the largest one placed on my grandmother's handmade doily on the grand piano in the front room. My father had written a special sermon which we would all discuss at the table that evening when we ate our traditional ham dinner. I sat sedately on the pew with my knees together, and head bowed. It was a special, awe-filled, reverent day, and I felt great joy well up in my heart as we sang the Protestant Easter hymns. "Christ the Lord is Ris'n Today" was twice as fast and toe-tapping as any Mormon ward has ever performed it, and then, my personal favorite:

Low in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior,
Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!


Vainly they watch His bed, Jesus my Savior;
Vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!


Death cannot keep its Prey, Jesus my Savior;
He tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Fast forward to the 1980's and '90's. BiV tries valiantly to recall the Easters of her youth as she sews 7 matching Easter dresses every year, and volunteers to write Easter cantatas for Sacrament meetings. But most years Easter falls on General Conference days, and we lie around the house in PJ's, munching on chocolate bunnies and putting jellybeans on Conference Bingo cards while watching the talking heads. Frustration mounted through these years. I wondered how we could come from such a wonderful musical tradition with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and be satisfied with Ward Choirs who thought an acceptable Easter production was singing "He is Risen" with the men singing the first verse, the women singing the second, and all joining together on the third. Talks and lessons went on in the usual schedule, sometimes with nary a mention of the resurrection. Mormons don't do JOY on Easter, I realized.

That's when I started worshipping with my local Baptist congregation on Easter. No, I didn't miss Church (or any of the Conference sessions). But I'd search for a sunrise service, or one that didn't conflict with any of our meeting times, and I'd slip over for an hour every Easter. DH was against it, so I didn't bring any of the children. It was just me, feeling the great spirit of Resurrection morning in an anonymous way with a group of people I didn't know.

One Easter I found myself in a rather large Christian church with lovely stained-glass and a 200-voice choir. The program was a live musical rendition of the Easter story. I was sitting in an aisle seat midway back when suddenly the doors behind me swung wide open and a bearded actor in a homespun robe entered the building, sitting on a real donkey! He passed, close enough to touch, and I felt an amazing emotional reaction. At that moment, I realized in a visceral way that Jesus was a historical, real, vital person who had actually lived and walked around on this earth. People had seen him, and touched him, and listened to his message. I felt a conviction that he had risen from the dead, as the scriptures relate. I thought it not impossible that he had physically appeared to a farm boy in New York in answer to a sincere prayer. It was the strongest testimony of the reality of the Savior and of the restoration of the gospel that I had yet experienced.

Perhaps it might seem odd that I could receive such a strong witness of the Restored Gospel in such a place. Or maybe it is perplexing that here on my questioning, often critical blog I would include my assurance of a personal Savior. But to all my readers, seeking or not, believing or not, I offer you my Easter story, however you will receive it. It is why I struggle to find answers to the conundrums of Mormonism. It is why I stay when others tell me to go find another church. It is why I roll my eyes at some of the policies and practices and then I go and do what I am told. It is why I put up with the abuses of patriarchy and the sore spots where other struggling sinners scrape against my weaknesses.

There's a place within me that loves Jesus. I join with you to shout Him welcome this Easter morning.



Ann said...

Our choir is singing "Christ Arose" today. We're small, but mighty in heart, and I think we're going to do just fine.

Mom Ockey said...

Thank you for this very touching post. In the ward in which I grew up (SLC, 1950s), Easter was a glorious Sunday. The choir (in which both my parents sang) would do most of the program, often a full contata, accompanied by a single sermon on the death and resurrection of Christ. Dad would always attend the stake's Easter Sunrise service, accompanied by whomever he could get out of bed at that hour. My sister and I had new dresses and white shoes, and Mom would have a new hat. Leg of lamb was served at our large family gathering, but not before we had a discussion of the sacrifice of the "Lamb of God" and it's application to us personally.
Most of all, Easter was a day of rejoicing.
Somewhere, in the midst of the "correlation" movement that the Church went through in the 70s and 80s, the religious holidays in general, and particularly Easter, got lost. Even the special Easter lessons for Sunday School and Relief Society were eliminated, because there just wasn't room for them in the curriculum.
It is our stake conference today, and, though the theme is "Finding Peace", there isn't a single speaker assigned to speak specifically on Christ or Easter.
Your post has helped me reflect on my own personal feelings about the Savior. My connection with and worship of Him is not dependent on church structure. When we sit down to our lamb dinner today with two of our children and four of our grandchildren, we will talk about the significance of this day and the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Perhaps, ultimately, it is in our home that we find God after all.

Bored in Vernal said...

Oh dear, I didn't mean to make fun of small but mighty ward choirs.

Mom Ockey, that was a beautiful comment. Thank you. If Easter is a day of rejoicing in the family, all is right with the world, isn't it? (But how can we bring back Stake Easter Sunrise services?!)

Ann said...

Oh, friend, I didn't take your comments as mockery at all. I share your love of Easter pageantry, having been born Catholic, and mourn the LDS low church leanings more weeks than not. But we do what we can with what we have. Next year I hope the small but mighty choir can do "Go To Dark Gethsemane."

DanaLee said...

I love your comments as well, I want to join you, whoever and whereever you are for those Baptist rejoicings on The Sabbath morning. I have felt a lack of rejoicing and real worship as I would want it on Easter as well. I spoke with a dear Catholic friend about what is traditional in their worship services and it goes on all week. I am saddened that we dont utilize the entire weeks meaning and draw inward and upward with reflections of what He did for us- all week. Triumphal Entry, could we not rejoice as they did? What could we do to bring this into our tradition? Introducing the Sacrament, I couldn't live without it. It literally is life giving to me at times. Gethsemane, so much more for us to learn. The cross itself is so amazing, its heavy to think about but the entire Christian world focuses there all year long there must be a thing or two we could draw from it during one week. And then to actually Rejoice, as you mentioned, find a way to bring that Real Rejoicing into our worship for that one Hopeful day. Holy week, I think we miss out on some great spiritual growth and nourishment because we dont take it into our culture and tradition more... Maybe I will see you next year at the Baptist church...

Fifthgen said...

Thank you for this great post. It is a little frustrating that we have often have to make an extra effort to really celebrate the resurrection on Easter. Like BiV, I can remember wonderful, spiritual Easters, but mostly because of things that happened away from "the Ward."

I love Easter. I love singing "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today," and "He Is Risen." But Mormon services on Sunday are often not enough for me (if there were a Stake Sunnrise service, I would be there). Thanks for inspiring me to find ways to celebrate the risen Lord, even if I have to do it on my own or with my own family. I am already thinking of next year.

Mormon Heretic said...

I just don't understand why Mormons seem so indifferent to Easter. I just posted something similar on my blog.

Why don't we truly celebrate Easter?

I like your idea of a sunrise Easter service. My wife is not so open to the idea, but perhaps I will try to do that next year.

Sanford said...

BiV -- all I can say is you've got going on.

InSearchOfGoodness said...

Sometimes in the rush of life and thoughts and feelings...we seem to forget the center, the point, the reason. The reality of WORSHIP, and the necessity of praise to our souls is incalcuable. Thank you for stoping and remembering the reason. "I hate your sacrifices" the Lord told the ancients... With the broken heart and contrite spirit then our small and mighty choirs and full contata singing saints join in the true purpose of our gathering. Who can resist praise of our precious Savior in any form...