I grew up in a church. Hell, my *mom* grew up in that church.
So did roughly 30% of my extended family, 60% of the people on our Christmas card list, and a reasonably high percentage of the people I’d give up a kidney for.
Not only did I go there, I stumbled into being a pastor there.
I don’t go there anymore.
It’s not from lack of faith (though mine’s weird to begin with) but for a variety of reasons—most of them complicated, none of them worth getting into.
But I’m not the only one who’s not there anymore. I think of the people I think of when I think of that church, only a small handful still attend. Most have left in the last 10 years, dispersed to various churches, in search of a place to call home like the place that once felt so right so many years before.
Easter just makes all that harder.
Imagine taking moments from your dearest family memories, your most intense spiritual experiences, some of the deepest most searing pain of your life, and some of the highest points of joy, then compacting them into a hot, white ball of flame that sears right through both ends of your soul whenever the ritual brings you back to it.
This, to me, this is Easter:
- Egg hunts in the backyard of my Gramma and Grampa Boucher’s house—the most magical place from my childhood—and that sycamore tree my grandpa would always hide eggs in so my brother Ryan and I had to climb up to get them. [You can see the trees in the back yard here]
- Video of my then 3-year-old, newly diabetic brother Justin saying, “I got a tie! And some cannnndy! … Is it sugary?” Cutest and most-watched video of my life. [Here’s the video.]
- Walking into a packed sanctuary, reconfigured with the huge choir at one side of the sanctuary, belting out “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” and later breaking into some funky 1980s “He is Alive!”, complete with some bizarre church aisle breakdancing and a bazillion high-fives. [Here’s Thomas & Leah’s less-80s version]
- Singing The Easter Song with my brother Ryan in church, being a mixture of ridiculous and joyful, belting “the angel up on the haystack” instead of “the angel up on the tombstone”, laughing wildly about the absurdity, and knowing because it was Easter we could get away with being a bit crazy in church while sitting right next to our dad (in his uber-serious and straight-laced days). [Here’s the song]
- Having a foot-washing service in the quiet of the sanctuary before that huge granite altar my senior year of high school with several of my closest friends.
- Watching our church’s Easter production, and listening to Ennio Morricone’s title theme from “The Mission”, with its gripping climactic moment scoring the reenactment of Michaelangelo’s Pieta—Jesus’ motionless body in Mary’s cradling arms dramatically lit at the foot of the cross. Then hearing James Newton Howard’s “Grand Canyon” theme blast explosion of life into the moment of the resurrection—feeling that song with my entire body. I can never listen to either of those tracks without getting chills. [Here’s The Mission and Grand Canyon (just the first half with horns, not the Epic Instrumental Rock Anthem)] * Staying up until 3am the night before with Kristi, Justin, my cousin Steve, and friend Scott Schneider entirely re-rigging the sanctuary lighting and sound for the next morning’s services. Playing those two tracks over and over at full volume on the Sanctuary PA in anticipation of the next morning.
- Trying to find celebration in Easter less than a week after losing a very dear young man and seeing so many others who I loved experience the most intense pain imaginable. Trying not to lose it while trying to help lead a sunrise service for high schoolers when he should have been there. Staring at the sunrise that morning and not scream every swear word I could think of.
- Laughing with my friend Thomas Payne about how much Tom Fortier hates Bill Cosby and how someone had said Thomas’s arrangement of “Let There Be Peace On Earth” was Going To Change The Music Industry. [Here’s Thomas and Leah’s song]
- Considering every Good Friday how deeply I am in need of forgiveness and on Easter how grateful I am for the joy of knowing Christ in the worst and best of times.
It’s really impossible to express the depth and breadth of emotion wrapped up in this one day.
And how much I miss it.
The word “nostalgia” is a beautifully constructed word—a fusion of “returning home” and “pain”.
It is the physical ache of recognition that you can’t go home again.
Something happened this year that helped me make sense of all this.
Our dear friend, Cindie Preszler, held a small Passover meal at her house this year after her studies inspired her to try it.
I can’t put it any other way than to say it was a very “layered” experience. While cognitively understanding the Seder meal’s rituals and spiritually experiencing it, we were surrounded by people who I would quickly identify as people who have been a deep part of my spiritual family for most of my life, several of whom I had spent little time with.
The context opened up a great deal of the experience to comparison.
I have always been intrigued by the Jewish Diaspora—here were a people who considered themselves not just God’s people, but God’s nation, but who lived without a nation of their own for the bulk of centuries AD, dispersed and spread throughout the world.
As so much of the words were read during the meal, I realized that we, too, were of our own (lesser) diaspora—and that Russian-stacking-doll-ishly, the church as a whole was in diasporic condition.
I’m certainly not the first to make this statement, but it was the first time it meant much more to me than an academic or theological concept. Though, indeed, experiencing spiritual analogy by way of ritual is one of the very themes of the Seder meal itself, as it was said, “In every generation, every individual must feel as if he or she personally had come out of Egypt.”
We are all yearning for home.
And, perhaps even more importantly, the non-home places that we yearn for that, in our memories feel so much like home, may be that sort of binding deception which cripples us from making the journey forward which we need to so desperately.
True: idealistic misremembering is a defining aspect of nostalgia—and no doubt, that’s the case here. It’s hard to imagine that it was the chains of slavery the Israelites were hankering to get back to when they were in the desert.
Having lived with it up close and way too personal, I also know that there was not all daisies and roses underlying the place which is so central to my Easter experience.
On reflection, it isn’t an Egypt I’d like to return to.
Not only do I not go there anymore, I have no desire to.
In this life, we may get glimpses and moments of home, but we aren’t there and can’t be—yet.
The Seder meal concludes with a single, simple line:
“Next year, in Jerusalem!”
Certainly, it’s a statement of hope, but it is not the simple hope of a Cubs fan saying, “Next year!” at the conclusion of another failed season and it’s not a public suggestion to make Holy Land travel plans.
As one rabbi put it, it’s a phrase of “radical futurism…and reckless dreams; for visions about what a human being can be, what society can be, what people can be, what history may become.”
For those of us who identify as diasporans, may we not merely ache for what has been for the sake of the painful prick of our individual and community nostalgia. May we ache for what may be in the divinest sense possible, may we work to see it become reality, and may we never forget that we were asked to be a part of making that happen.
And to my fellow diasporans, Happy Easter! and Next year—in Jerusalem!