What is a Unitarian Universalist to do with Easter? This Sunday will mark my third Sunday as a UU, and I’m no closer to a comfortable answer to that questions. The simple answer would be to do nothing. While my religious tradition stems from Christianity and Judaism, and while I grew up a practice Catholic and Methodist, the Unitarian Universalists don’t make much of particular holidays, at least as a larger organization. There’s no guidance there.
I imagine many services will make reference to new life, fresh starts, rebirth, and the like. Some may even mention Jesus, but likely not as the risen son of God. Others will discuss Passover, which, for reasons I’m not entirely certain, may be a safer topic. Most of us weren’t Jewish previously, so perhaps that seems less controversial. It’s not ours to claim any more than Easter, at least for many UUs. At UUCF, we’re slated for an overview of the physics of light followed by a reinterpretation of Jesus as the light of the world. Sounds interesting to me.
But what do we do about Easter? My boys are past the Easter Bunny. Okay, they never believed because their father and I never encouraged it, but that’s not the issue. Candy. “The kind I can eat with my braces,” admonishes my 12-year-old. “Peeps and jelly beans,” says his braces-free brother. “And we need to color eggs,” he adds.
I can manage that list, although for the last two years, I’ve added some seeds and gardening goodies to their baskets. That’s my nod to new life, and they enjoy growing the seeds. But the process seems hollow now that we’re not following a Christian tradition. Like on Christmas, I find myself wondering what we’re celebrating. I’m just not sure.
I know what I celebrated a decade back and why this season held meaning for me for so long. Okay, for the first part of my life it was the chocolate bunny, jelly beans (red, white, green, then black; skip the rest), and Easter Vigil. We attended a Methodist church and Catholic university community on Sundays, and despite running long and starting late, Easter Vigil with the Catholics was a clear winner. Weather permitting, service started with the lighting of the Easter fire outside. Next, the Easter candle was lit, water blessed, and the light passed through the congregation, candle to candle. “Christ the light!” chanted the priest. “Thanks be to God,” we sang in reply. Only then did we process into the chapel, the dark breaking upon our approach, candles in every hand and surrounding the altar. It was pure peace and entirely entrancing.
As a youngster, I’d fade as the service continued. As the readings and singing continued, I’d usually find my head dropping on to my mom’s shoulder or into her lap. I may have been 12 before I saw the whole service, not coincidentally the year I was baptized during the Vigil. I’ve attended other Easter Vigils, notably the one when my then-husband converted to and was confirmed in the Catholic Church. I was pregnant with my younger son and fairly uncomfortable sitting in the narrow pew of the church, but my heart was with my then-husband. It’s the last Easter Vigil I recall attending.
A short five years later, we’d left the Catholic and then Episcopal churches. I can’t pinpoint the first time I wondered what Christmas and Easter meant for me and my family, with none of us identifying ourselves as Christian. We continue to celebrate both seasons, although Easter receives minimal treatment. During Lent and Advent, I find myself a bit adrift, lost, without the anchors of my previous Christian beliefs. Much of that drifting comes from the habit of practice all those years in Christian churches. These times had structures, rules, even. While I don’t hold the belief behind those rules anymore, I do miss the routines and, especially in the Catholic church, the ritual.
But routine and ritual aren’t enough for me to return to the faith of my youth. I’m following a different path on my mountain climb, a path that speaks deeply to my soul and shapes my view of the world and my place in it. It’s not a path with Lenten penance and Easter resurrection, but it does include reflection and self-evaluation, of love and compassion. And it’s full of light. Light, both particle and wave, an apparent contradiction yet a binding, unified entity. I’m not sure where the sermon I hear Easter morning will go, but I know (more than when I began this post) that the Jesus who spoke of binding all together despite the contradictions also taught the Buddha’s loving kindness, the Sufi’s boundless, joyful love, the Tao’s mystery. While these comparisons may seem to be particle and wave, separate entities, they are united into one light. And that one light can accompany me on my choice of path up the mountain.
May the light of Easter show you the way on your path.