Jim Bishop: Resurrecting Easter memories with a passion

Column by Jim Bishop
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Easter dashes madly around the calendar from year to year, arriving as early as March 22 (which last took place in 1913) and as late as April 25 (that last happened in 1943).

The Easter date is set around the time of the vernal, or spring, equinox, when the length of day and night is nearly equal in every part of the world. Easter won’t fall on March 23 again until the year 2160, and I don’t expect to be around to celebrate it.

Certain sights and scents automatically come to the fore at this special time of year – daffodils and tulips pushing through winter-encrusted soil, brilliant yellow forsythia, swelling tree buds, fragrant hyacinths and Easter lilies; persons who can’t wait any longer planting radishes, lettuce, peas and other cool weather crops in backyard gardens; rows of calorie-laden carbohydrates lining grocery shelves to the delight of children and the chagrin of dentists.

Certain mental notes directly linked to my childhood in Medieval times in eastern Pennsylvania resurface like the first dandelions of spring.

In my mind’s eye I can still visualize going to Hellerick’s Store just down Rt. 313 (Dublin Pike) close to Easter and seeing baby chicks for sale that were dyed brilliant colors. I don’t think the animal rights organization PETA was active back then or they would have closed the chicken coop door on that one.

One year, I purchased a psychedelic chick, fed and cared for it, and before long “Sascha” – named after the bird in “Peter and the Wolf” – followed me around the yard and down the garden path to my Uncle George’s. Turned out it was a cockerel, so no eggs were forthcoming. I can’t recall whether Sascha wound up on our dining room table or became a sentry for the free-range roost at my uncle’s.

I confess: I still get an Easter basket today, with its mandatory major search to find the cache of chocolate-covered goodies. I never did come to appreciate the pink and yellow marshmallow rabbits (that usually hardened prematurely), but oh, boy, do I relish to this day those Cadbury cream eggs and Reeses’ peanut butter eggs.

It feels good these many years later to watch our grandkids nearly turn the house upside down searching for their Easter baskets and, if the weather cooperates, moving outside to hunt for brightly-colored real eggs. I always find a couple that were overlooked with the first mowing of spring.

Another childhood memory I recall this time every year: most if not businesses in my hometown of Doylestown, Pa., closed from noon to 3 p.m. Good Friday in remembrance of the hours of Christ’s tortured suffering on the cross.

Tradition dictates the yearly purchase of a fragrant Easter lily and hyacinth that are later planted outside to watch them return to flower the following spring. I also pot an elephant ear bulb indoors to give it a head start on the summer season.

Growing up, the Lenten season wasn’t emphasized in my church, even though we always observed the ordinance of footwashing in a “preparation service” a week prior to taking communion, usually on or close to Easter. I recall this as a somber occasion when members were expected to declare publicly that “I am at peace with God and my fellow man” in the presence of our bishop, pastor and deacon.

During our time of involvement at Belmont Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Ind., in the late 1960’s Anna and I were introduced to the congregation’s practice of a simple “Last Supper” meal. Persons sat around tables,

eating, discussing what it must have been like in that upper room setting with Jesus knowing that his hour had come. I now look forward each year to a similar soup and bread meal on Maundy Thursday evening at Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, with storytelling, singing and a footwashing ceremony, following Jesus’ example.

The act itself is straightforward and humbling, but what a powerful image is evoked – if you want to experience greatness, then become the least in the kingdom through this act of lowly servant leadership.

It is part of the life-giving message that pulsates to the heart of Easter: The old rugged cross is empty, the stone is rolled away from the tomb, death has lost its grip, replaced by the power of the resurrection as our Lord invites each of us to receive the abundance of love, mercy and grace that is ours to experience and to share with others.

Lift your glad voices – glory, hallelujah!


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