Easter Week

Easter is a pretty important part of Christianity, right?  It’s been a small annoyance nagging at me for years that we Mormons don’t seem to make a big deal about it, so at my husband’s suggestion I decided that, while I can’t really change a whole cultural habit, I can do something about the way I personally observe Easter. This year, I decided to observe Holy Week. I referred to Eric Huntsman’s blog as a study guide and spent a considerable amount of time each day reading scriptures and commentary, listening to music, and thinking about the events. I don’t want to give a play-by-play here, but I do want to share some of the highlights of my experience this week.

Many years ago, my husband and I set a poem by Richard Wilbur to music as a Christmas gift to family members. Although the title is A Christmas Hymn, I realized this week that it is much more applicable to Holy Week. The author prefaces the text of the poem with this passage from Luke 19:39-40: “And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. And he answered and said unto them, I tell that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” Although the first stanza is about the Savior’s birth, I was reminded of the poem’s second stanza when I began studying about Palm Sunday:

A stable-lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbor heaven,
A stall become a shrine.

This child through David’s city
Shall ride in triumph by;
The palm shall strew its branches
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway
To pave his kingdom come.

As it happened, whether by accident or by planning, the recent dedication of the LDS Provo City Center Temple fell on Palm Sunday. The dedication was broadcast to church buildings for all members in the area to attend. The Hosanna Shout is something included in every temple dedication – those in attendance wave white handkerchiefs, which are meant to be reminiscent of the palm branches waved during Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. After studying and pondering about the events of Palm Sunday, it meant even more to participate in this part of the temple dedication.

I also enjoyed revisiting the hymn All Glory, Laud and Honor, especially the part that says, “The people of the Hebrews with palms before thee went; our praise and love and anthems before thee we present. To thee, before thy passion, they sang their hymns of praise; to thee, now high exalted, our melody we raise. Thou didst accept their praises; accept the love we bring.” At our Family Home Evening while discussing Holy Week, we sang this and several other hymns, and it was just as meaningful as it is when we gather to sing Christmas carols in December.

I loved having time to focus on the events of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday commemorated during Holy Week, and was surprised how little I knew about the specific chronology of those events described in the New Testament. I also enjoyed seeing the artwork and listening to music that others posted online about the events of those days. There’s an abundance of good music written about Holy Week and I was grateful to have a reason to discover or revisit some of those great pieces. On Thursday, as I was reading John 15:1, I remembered Arvo Pärt’s choral work, “I Am the True Vine,” and decided to listen to it as I read that passage of scripture.

Fourteen verses of scripture don’t usually take me eight minutes to read, so reading along with the music gave me time to think about what each word or phrase meant. The music isn’t so busy that it obscures the text, so I had an experience I can only describe as transcendent – listening, reading, thinking, and feeling. Slowing down to ponder each part brought much more meaning to a passage I usually hurry through. I realized that the same could be said for my experience of slowing down and stretching out my study of the Passion over a week’s time instead of giving it a few hours’ (distracted) attention on Easter Sunday.

This change of pace and focus brought even more meaning to the events of the Last Supper, the Intercessory Prayer, and the Garden of Gethsemane. Each passage I read was so rich and heavy, I had to study them in shifts throughout the day, taking breaks in between to clean my house. And as I continued to read of His trial and crucifixion, I was amazed at how the “insulting scoffs and scorns” hurt me, at how affected I was reading of His pain and suffering and sadness. And even more than an acute awareness of how painful and insulting the experience was, I was struck by how voluntary it was. At each moment where I would feel the need to point out how wrong someone was, He stayed silent. I was reminded of one of my favorite paintings of the Savior, Carl Bloch’s The Mocking of Christ, especially the difference between the twisted anger in one face and the calm resignation in another.

carl-bloch-the-mocking-of-christ

I thought of the third stanza of Wilbur’s poem:

Yet he shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
For stony hearts of men:
God’s blood upon the spearhead,
God’s love refused again.

Some of those emotions were still near the surface Friday night as I attended a live broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. My kids were pestering me, I was cold and hungry because I had forgotten to eat dinner, but I still was brought to tears as we sang some of the choruses and listened to the soloists refer to events I had just been studying.

Saturday was filled with fun Easter family events and Sunday was filled with Easter music, which was nice, but I was so grateful to have had a whole quiet week to prepare for the holiday – to think and read and remember in a way that I never have. I hope to make it a tradition and to try to find ways to observe Holy Week with the rest of my family in the future. 

But now, as at the ending,
The low is lifted high;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
In praises of the child
By whose descent among us
The worlds are reconciled.

 

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Easter Week

  1. Thanks as always. When I was growing up my mom would always make a fancy ham dinner… with pineapple rings and maraschino cherries toothpick-ed to it with brown sugar and pineapple juice glaze.Yum! But as I became an adult it occurred to me that ham was one of the most inappropriate. And so I thought about the Passover and how the Jews were instructed to take an unblemished lamb and smear it’s blood on their doors so the angel of death would pass them by, and to eat it with bitter herbs. I’ve had lamb every Easter since. This Easter we added some of the tradition Seder foods as well; matzo, haroset, and charos. Next year I think we’ll have a different kitchen (bigger) and we’ll do a full Seder meal…except for the wine!

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