Easter is very different when celebrated in a monastery. I was asked by a friend if I would share with her what Easter means to me, and so I draw heavily upon my monastic experience. I suppose most if not all of my thoughts on Easter come from living there for so long. Easter there is a totally different experience from what it is out here…as the spiritual aspect is the one focused on, and we were spared the commercial side.
Easter in the monastery is a reminder that the spiritual world invites us to step beyond the tangible. My Easters are so heavily dependent upon Holy Week. In the monastery we tried to “re-live” the events, not just read about them. So Holy Thursday we washed each other’s feet, we celebrated the last supper with a special meal, and we spent the night in prayer as we read the passion. In those days, we stayed the whole night. Good Friday was a day of unique silence. There were no monastery bells (which were normal on regular days, so their absence impacted the day quite a bit), no music of any kind except the chant of the Tenebrae, the special office for the Triduum and of course, no one spoke. I still try to maintain that kind of silence on Good Friday, as much as I can (for me it means no TV or radio or music). Holy Saturday was a day of preparation, a joyous day of anticipation. It was a day we gathered flowers from our monastery garden to adorn the altar, when we set up the candles and broke out the special vestments and chalice for the Easter celebration. The day was always full of anticipation, for the heaviness of Lent was about to give way to celebration, and after our Lenten fast and penance, that was a time worth waiting for!
Easter became the most important day of the year for me after my first year in the monastery. It wasn’t just the way we commemorated Holy Week that made it special, though that was part of it. It was also the chant that captured, for me, first the pain and sorrow of Holy Week, and then the beauty of the resurrection. I lived each year waiting eagerly for this time of year, Holy Week and Easter. In fact, the main reason I stayed so long in the monastery was because every time I thought of leaving, I would stop and say to myself, “But how will I ever live without these celebrations of Holy Week and Easter?” That one event kept me in many more years than I probably should have stayed.
I still try to capture its essence as much as I can. This year I found a parish community in Mount Washington that celebrated Holy Week with such rituals and ceremony as to help me stop missing the monastery so much during this time of the year. I confess, it’s the one time of the year I do love rituals and ceremony (normally I like to keep things simple). I find their use helps me in a way “touch” the spiritual aspect of my faith.
So that, in a rather long, rambling narrative, is what Easter means to me. As I said, it’s the one time of year I get really homesick for the monastery. I suppose Easter is what life is all about, being able to come through any kind of “lent” and find new life and glory. I think the celebration of Easter should be about remembering that life never dies, but only changes form.