I have been thinking about Easter lately. It always seemed right to me that it comes at the beginning of spring, just as new things are growing, new life springing up as a reminder of the resurrection, in the same way that it always felt right that Christmas came in the middle of winter, the Light of the World coming as the days start growing longer. I am not sure how Easter will feel here in the southern hemisphere. We are just finishing the summer rainy season. Soon the grass will dry out and the goats will get skinnier and we will step quietly into the hungry season. Christmas didn't feel quite like Christmas with the 101 degree days, the watermelons, and the lime trees decorated with paper snowflakes and popcorn and I'm afraid that Easter won't feel quite like Easter.
On Palm Sunday we used palm branches from the trees outside. They had a big pile of them at the door and when you went inside they ripped off one of the fronds and stuck it to your chest with a piece of packing tape. Midway through the service they realized they needed some more so they just sent a few kids out into the yard to collect some. It seemed right, much better than the imported palm branches at home. I think that the best symbols are ordinary things; bread, water, oil. There is something about transforming the everyday bits and pieces of life into something holy that is important. I think that it is meant to remind us that things are not as they seem; that the ordinary blue world around us is only as ordinary as our eyes. It's easy to forget. I think that's why we need symbols and also probably why we need stories. It's not that storytellers look at sidewalks and elm trees and see epic journeys and dangerous forests, but that we, poor souls, look at epic journeys and dangerous forests and see only elm trees and sidewalks. That's why it meant so much more that palm branches we used were from the same scraggly tree that I passed every morning on my way to school or to the shop. The donkey outside, the same one that had me cursing under my pillow as he brayed all night or that went whizzing down the street, far too fast to be safe, pulling a cart piled with children, that same donkey could easily have been the one that Jesus rode into Jerusalem.
On Maundy Thursday it rained hard, like the sky was weeping. As I was walking to the shop to buy some sugar, I looked around Anker and I started thinking that turn of the century Israel was probably a lot like this. Many of the mud houses, the donkeys, cows, goats and children wandering around barefoot wouldn't look out of place in one of the middle chapters of Matthew. But it's more than that, there is something quietly brutal about life in both places. There is a danger to life that we have conveniently edited out of the American vocabulary. Here, you can die quickly from painful and untreated diseases that we in America have forgotten. There are funerals all of the time. There are witches across the street and dreams mean something. I think Jesus would fit in better here, with the drunk old men, the orphans, the faithful church women without shoes, the grandmothers who have watched their children die of AIDs and are left with too many grandchildren to raise, and all the others who live on the edges, than he would in the more sedate pains and sins of suburbia. I can see John as the silent, grizzled grandfather who is on the school board who always shows up from his farm with a tattered leather hat and signs in by pressing his index finger to a stamp pad because he can't write. I can see Martha as the woman at the church with the rotten front teeth who sings so beautifully in the choir with her two year old boy tied to her back. I can see Peter looking something like Ronnie, the shopkeeper, who gets up some Sundays and begs us to sing his favourite song and to really mean it this time, while he dances around the church shouting "O-sie-anna" which means "Hosanna" and everybody else in the church dances along with him. The New Testament would make sense if it were set here.
I'm still thinking about Easter. No, we're not going into spring, no new life, all crocuses and bunnies, for us. We're going into the dry season, the hungry season, the season when the grass has all been eaten down to the roots and all we can do is hope that next year there will be enough rain to revive it again. But really, when do you need a reminder of resurrection more than you do during the dry and hungry season? We can get together on a Sunday morning; the unemployed men who were drunk last night, the gaggle of children from the hostel who don't have anything better to do, the women in the back feeding their babies, the old men who sit in the front with the church elders, the memes in full traditional regalia complete with head wraps, shawls, and ostrich egg necklaces, that weird Peace Corps volunteer, and all of the rest of us sinners on the edges of society, we can get together and remember the God who chose to come to the edges in the dry and hungry season of our soul. And that definitely feels like Easter.