In some Protestant churches they talk about “C&E people”—the folks who only show up at Christmas and Easter, get their share of holiday fanfare, and then disappear until the next major religious celebration.
I’m something of an “AC&LE” person myself. I don’t just show up at Christmas and Easter, but for the seasons of Advent and Lent that precede them.
It is during these weeks of the year that I become an Episcopal groupie, accompanying my husband and daughter more often than usual to their church. I keep (or, let’s be real here, try to keep) a Lenten discipline or two, up the ante in my prayer life, and mark the days of Holy Week.
I do these things so that I can stay both Mormon and sane.
Without these Lenten experiences, Easter would feel hollow and superficial to me. It’s funny how Mormons want to jump right to the joy of Easter but never mark Jesus’ death in the first place.
Not for us the betrayal of Maundy Thursday or the painful Stations of the Cross; not for us the image of Jesus, suffering and broken. We like our Jesus risen and glorified, thank you very much. So Easter for us appears out of nowhere, liturgically speaking. We sing hymns like “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” on Easter Sunday and have to wonder: risen from what, exactly? Was he sick or something?
So tonight I’ll be walking to the nearest Episcopal Church to hear terrible words about betrayal, broken bodies, and a footwashing servant-Christ. Tomorrow I’ll return to weep about the way they—they way I—whipped him and tormented him and drove nails into his hands, leaving him to die in the most painful manner possible. A death that was, literally, excruciating.
It’s only then that I’ll be ready for Sunday.
It’s not that Mormons don’t believe in the cross or in Christ’s redemptive suffering. We are great believers in all of it, from Gethsemane through Calvary to Emmaus. But we don’t internalize the foundational events of Christian faith through liturgy; we don’t act them out in any way; we are keen observers always, but never participants.
Which is why Easter comes as a shock to the system if you’re Mormon. You haven’t prepared for this—or if you have, you did so individually and not communally. So Easter comes and you enjoy the music, which is a little better than usual even though you can’t have trumpets in church (!). And if the weather is nice you remark that the weather is lovely and isn’t it wonderful that Easter is sunny this year. So depressing to have a rainy or cold Easter. And you enjoy the fact that your kids are having a special treat. (Yes, eggs and bunnies feature in Mormon Easter celebrations too. We are nothing if not a fertile and candy-loving people.)
But spiritually, there’s not much to sustain you there. Mormon Easter celebrations feel much like the jelly beans in your children’s basket: a little too cloying, a lot too pastel.
So tonight I’ll be marking the pain behind the scenes, knowing that as the Book of Mormon teaches us, there must be an opposition in all things. We can’t truly know the joy of Easter until we’ve walked the road of suffering. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday: the Triduum marks betrayal, suffering, and darkness.
Those things are necessary for me to see the light come Sunday.
Correction: An earlier version of this post named the Charles Wesley hymn as “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” instead of “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.”