It’s Easter. Buona Pasqua a tutti. I am supposed to say that, but my heart really isn’t in it.
Alright, I admit it. I am not that into Easter. Gosh, I feel like an old curmudgeon when I say things like that. A couple of weeks back I posted that I wasn’t crazy about St. Patrick’s Day. The only trouble with blaming it on being a grumpy old man is that I have felt this way all my life which makes it worse. Have I always been this sour puss, the Eeyore at the birthday party of life?
I guess it all started when I was a kid. Easter never seemed like all that big a deal to me, especially after Christmas when the world was saturated with good cheer. Easter seemed to come and go without much notice. Everyone talked about how Easter morning would be great because there would be all this candy, but I was never into candy that much. I am not saying I didn’t like it, but it wasn’t like I craved it. Candidly, I would have rather had my mom’s home pizza or stromboli.
Easter strikes me as an epilogue. It happens after the confrontation between the good guy and the bad guy is over. We just need to tell what happens as a result of it all. I think maybe this was because I went to Catholic school all my life.
At Saint Agnes, during lent, they ended the school week with the Stations of the Cross. There are fourteen points, or stations, between Jesus being condemned to death and his body being placed in the sepulcher. In our church, the stations were 14 tableaux placed on the sidewalls of the main sanctuary, seven on each side, each tableau showing a scene from the Passion of Christ. All the Catholic Churches I have visited have them. I even seek them out, including the chapel at the United States Air Force Academy in Boulder Colorado. Theirs are beautiful.
When they did the Stations of the Cross back at Saint Agnes, a priest accompanied by altar boys, two with candles and one with a cross, would walk down the outer aisle, stopping at each station the priest would say a prayer. I remember the fourth station where Mary sees Jesus in his torment. Little boys have no understanding of the anguish a parent feels when seeing the suffering of their child. The pain the woman must have felt did not strike me until I was an adult with children of my own. At the fifth station, the Romans force Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus carry the cross. I remember the priest saying in his prayer how he had wished that he could have been there to help Jesus carry that cross. That particular prayer seemed hokey to me. Sure, we can sit in our nice comfortable church 2,000 years later, saying we would stand up to those Romans who were hurting Jesus, but would we? All his friends abandoned him, and I am going to be the one to hold out? Sure.
In my opinion, the most compelling part of the whole story of Easter is on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Most of the events of these two days are told in the Stations of the Cross. This is the part that touches me. There is the one last meal with his friends, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus wrestles with the fate he is about to endure, and the betrayal of a friend who leads the Temple Guards of the Sanhedrin to arrest him.
Perhaps this is why the observation of Holy Week in Sorrento has such resonance with me. Here they have two processions during Holy Week. The first of these, The White Parade, takes place on Holy Thursday, a celebration of anticipation and hope. The procession carries a statue of Mary from church to church, lights and olive branches decorating its route. While the statue is brought into each church, the rest of the retinue waits outside, silently standing in vigil. It symbolizes the Madonna, Mary, searching through the city for her son.
The second procession takes place on Good Friday. It is the Procession of Death, the Black Parade. This procession is more of a funeral march with macabre images of Christ’s broken body and crown of thorns. Mary, as well as the participants in the parade, is dressed in black, replacing the traditional blue robes. The death of her son has crushed Mary’s hope from the previous evening. This is Good Friday, a day when Christians confront the suffering on the cross which was the payment for our sins. It is the day when death was seemingly victorious.
In writing this post I realize that I navigate through Scylla and Charybdis. There is the Scylla of cynics and skeptics in the world who scoff at the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. There is also the Charybdis of people of faith who will tell me that I miss the point of Easter Morning which is Christ’s victory over death. I understand both sets of critics. However, there is a greater point to be made here.
What makes the Gospel compelling, at least to me, is God becoming a human. It is the story of a God who strips himself of his divinity and all that goes with it, to experience the world as each of us experiences it. What is the result? After being tortured and on the cusp of death he prays; Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. What a perfect prayer. When faced with our own humanity, as well as the humanity of those around us, perhaps we need to pray this prayer as well. Father forgive us for we know not what we do.
For more on Italian and Italian-American culture, read my book Italianità, The Essence of Being Italian