Growing up in a Southern Baptist Church in America one doesn’t follow a lot of the orthodox traditions. Easter for me has always consisted of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Of course I learned about Palm Sunday too, but the week leading to Resurrection Sunday is just your average week for most American Baptists. In fact, what most made me feel like Easter was coming was the annual trip to find an Easter dress. Everyone knew that this is the Sunday when even your Sunday best will not do: you must have something new! I imagine this tradition claims to represent the ‘newness’ of the Resurrection, though sadly what was often on my mind was not the events of the week leading up to this day: Jesus riding in to town on a donkey, Him asking his disciples to prepare a room- the room where they would sit and eat the Last Supper- or even his time praying in Gethsemane and being led to prison. No, my mind was filled with wondering if my Easter dress would be good enough, if I would look pretty enough, and if I’d be able to stay awake through Sunrise Service, Sunday school, and regular Sunday preaching.
I say this not to condemn the traditions of my particular denomination or churches, but to get to an even broader truth: what we do traditionally can often become meaningless, or worse, take on new meanings that have nothing to do with the original intent. These past few years as I have lived in Mexico I have broken with the old traditions simply because they were no longer available to me. No one wears new dresses here. There is no sunrise service. And Easter is hardly spoken of in the church that I attend.
But I find that in the loss of old traditions I am all the more eager to discover new ones. In previous years I have chosen to observe Lent (something I never even knew about until my college years) but this year I am observing Holy Week in the form of a Holy Week devotional. Each day offers a reminder of what Jesus offers to me through his sacrifice: redemption, propitiation, forgiveness. As I read through each days passages I find my heart much more ready for Easter Morning. My heart is made aware through slow and steady exposure to the gravity of what this final week of Jesus’ life means for my own. I find that old traditions don’t lose their charm, but they do take on new meaning. That my motivation in doing them is not because this is how things have always been done but because I see the ways they allow me to express what God is teaching my heart. I still may not buy a new dress or go to a sunrise service. But I can remember fondly the years that I did- reflecting now on how new clothes are a symbol of new life- my new life that Jesus offers me. How early that morning another woman rose early and left to look for Jesus- and how she found him not dead but risen and fully alive. The bracing cold and dark drive to the church is nothing compared to the sorrow Mary must have felt walking to that grave. And the joy of seeing everyone in their new clothes so simple compared to the joy she must have felt at seeing Jesus standing there alive.
And so I think that I will often celebrate Holy Week in years to come. Perhaps each year may look a little different. Some years may be more old traditions and others more new. The importance lies not in how I celebrate but in who those celebrations lead my heart to. One thing I have learned to avoid is in thinking that my own traditions are the only or even the best way for me to grow as a person. And I find each year that I am more and more thankful for the sharing of ideas and the opportunity to see things with a new perspective- no matter how many times I have seen them before. What are your Easter traditions? How do you celebrate and how do you help your heart focus during this season?