As a kid, Easter Sunday made me uncomfortable for reasons that had nothing to do with theology.
Mostly, it was because I had to “dress up” for church – more so than usual. “Usual” was a button-up shirt rather than a T-shirt, and that was bad enough.
But based on the pictures I’ve seen, Easter meant dress pants and a white shirt buttoned all the way up to the top strangulation button, so my mom could clip on that fake tie. A jacket was also required, just like the ones insurance salesmen and bankers wore.
Add uncomfortable shiny shoes and sometimes even suspenders (again, based on pictures) and you had a perfect recipe for discomfort.
My sister, a couple years older, seemed to love the dressing-up part. For her, as for most girls, Easter meant a fancy spring dress, sometimes white gloves like the older ladies at church wore, often a hat, a purse or a parasol.
She looked adorable. My mom would do her hair and they’d sing that song about the Easter parade – “In your Easter bonnet, with all the flowers on it…” which I would gleefully revise to “In your Easter bonnet, you’ll make me want to vomit…” and run before they could catch me.
Of course, they always caught me. I was eventually, and reluctantly, civilized.
I never saw an Easter parade, by the way. Our town paraded for the opening of the rodeo and Little League season, and that was about it.
The other source of my Easter angst was also clothes-related: after church, there would be pictures.
Not only did you have to button up, clip on the tie, stuff yourself into the coat and be careful not to scuff the shoes – you had to leave it all on until Mom, Dad and Kodak could document the occasion – much like Matthew Brady documented the Civil War.
Apparently it was absolutely essential for someone growing up in America to have a photographic record of what they looked like every year on Easter Sunday.
Me? I looked uncomfortable. I couldn’t wait to get out of those clothes, ride my bike, swing on swings, run around, climb things – anything but stand still and smile for the camera.
Egg hunting was a small-scale, private affair for our four-person family. I don’t remember any public Easter egg hunts when I was a kid. Given that it was spring in West Texas, maybe they didn’t want to risk massive amounts of plastic eggs getting airborne and raining down on Abilene.
I didn’t mind hunting eggs – I just didn’t want to do it in those clothes. Overdosing on sugar just brought on a different kind of discomfort.
Nowadays, an ambitious kid can hit three or four massive egg hunts during the week leading up to Easter. It’s an organized, corporate activity that can even involve eggs dropped from helicopters – and who knows what’s inside those things? Candy? Cash? Savings bonds? Lottery tickets?
The real meaning of Easter began to dawn on me only after I grew up – in fact, it is still dawning.
Of course it’s not about clothes, bonnets, eggs, baskets or bunnies. There are various reasons all those things have sprung up around this holiday, but I’m about as interested in them as I am in wearing another clip-on tie.
When you get past it all, you’re left with an uncomfortable truth. On a spring day nearly 2,000 years ago, all seemed lost. The young rabbi from Nazareth, who had drawn such huge crowds when he was healing, feeding and teaching them, was all alone.
Spurred on by the insecure religious leaders of the day, the crowds had turned on him, from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!” in one short week. By Friday evening he was dead – sealed in a tomb, well on the way to rotten and forgotten.
I hope you know the rest of the story.
That Sunday, God reached down and defeated death – mankind’s final and greatest enemy. Jesus walked out on a fine spring morning as the first fruits of eternity, giving hope to you and me and all who will follow him in faith.
As a kid, the clothes made me uncomfortable.
The risen Christ makes a lot of grown-up people uncomfortable, and that’s OK.
We all just need to work through it and keep looking for him until we find him.
I’m pretty sure he wants all of us in that family portrait.
Bob Buckel is editorial director of the Messenger.