For most of us this Sunday will be an Easter like no other. We will not be gathering together, eager to reclaim our “alleluias.” No lilies to take home or brunches to rush off to. The plastic eggs, which normally we’d be filling with less-than-healthful treats, will have to keep until next year. It’s unlikely you’ll dress up in your Sunday best just to watch me on a computer screen.
I’m going to set aside one of my Easter rituals – the “egg trick” I learned from one of my mentors and who gave me my own set of three the specific bottles needed for it. If you are unfamiliar, I’m talking about an Easter children’s message and trick that I learned almost 20 years ago – Easter 2001 – when I was an intern at the First Presbyterian Church of Vallejo, California. I’ve performed it every Resurrection Sunday since my own first Easter as a pastor in 2003. I won’t bore you here by describing it in detail but the lesson uses three different types of bottles, including an old-fashioned cream top milk bottle, three hard boiled eggs, string dowsed in candle oil and fire. After five Easters at DPC many of the kids can recite the shtick themselves and this year I had even planned on inviting one of them to do it (maybe next year!).
Now, I did think about doing it on the live stream. But I decided against it for a few reasons. One is that live-stream time is precious and I don’t want to eat it up on well-worn and unnecessary gimmick. Another is that I remembered too late that my bottles are at the church and not at my home; an hour in the car and a gallon of gas seem like a too-steep price for a cheap trick. The most compelling reason, though, came to me at Publix on Tuesday. As I was pushing my cart through the aisles, list in hand, I came to the eggs. And my list did say “1/2 doz. cheap eggs” because my first two reasons had not gotten me to 100% certainly on not doing the trick. And Publix did have eggs, everything from the inexpensive store brand to organic boutique eggs laid by free-range, college-educated chickens. But except for the trick, I didn’t need eggs; we still had about one-and-a-half dozen at home. And since Mary Louise and I don’t eat a lot of eggs, we invest in good quality ones and not the kind I’m going to use on a trick. And I realized that this year, at least, I shouldn’t use any egg except to eat. Not when people are losing jobs, not when there aren’t as many eggs on the shelves as there used to be, not when I remember that a hardboiled egg is a precious commodity to someone living on the streets. Not when food banks are seeing a surge in use and a decrease in donations (toilet paper isn’t the only thing people aren’t sharing).
Now I realize that my epiphany smacks of privilege and I need to own all my other unnecessary consumption. Leaving six eggs at Publix is no genuine sacrifice. But it is a reminder of how much I do have and how, with the economy in a tailspin and the safety net fraying, Need – with a capital “N” – is more acute than ever.
About a week ago I did a phone interview with Tasha French Lemley from WPLN on the difficulty many are having finding a hot meal in Nashville. Tasha knows me and us from our longstanding breakfast ministry and wanted to get my take on the current situation. While my comments didn’t make it into the final cut (click here for the text and audio pieces) she did includes us in the list of the few organizations still providing a meal for those in homelessness or poverty. She notes that where there used to be a lot of meal providers in Nashville, “with the upheaval from coronavirus, that reliable network has fractured.”
It’s fair to say that that reliable network isn’t the only thing that’s fractured. And maybe when we find our way to whatever normal looks like next we won’t too quickly try to recover everything we’ve lost or reestablish everything that’s changed. I believe that God has the ability to redeem tragedy – that’s what Easter is about – and open us to new possibilities…if we pause long enough before rushing headlong back to how it used to be.
Perhaps next year I’ll revive the egg trick. It’s likely that in 2021 three hardboiled eggs won’t be missed. But I also know that I won’t be able ever to do that trick without thinking about this Easter and remembering that there is nothing – not an egg, not a blade of grass, not a single life – that isn’t precious, absolutely priceless, to God.
Grace and peace,
P.S. – Some of you will remember my “Wee Dude” sermon from a couple Christmases ago where I tell the story of our friend Amy in Pittsburgh who adopted a boy with severe disabilities. Huffpost published a piece by Amy about her life with Wee Dude today. You can find it by clicking on this sentence.