Saturday, April 11, 2015

Easter Season Disconnect

Easter season produces a very large sense of disconnect between my past and present.  For an idea of the magnitude of the dissonance, take a look this article from the Deseret News.  To sum it up, in the population of Mormon's studied by this BYU professor, Easter observances in the LDS faith around the Utah area where he surveyed are completely dominated by the observance of General Conference.  In terms of how much planning an preparation go into their holidays, the respondents put Easter as 3rd, with Christmas at the top, Thanksgiving second, and then Easter only slightly ahead of the 4th of July.  A minority of the respondents knew what day Easter was on that year, had a thorough familiarity with the events of the New Testament leading up to Easter, and a minority followed specific worship remembrances of the Easter season.  Even when General Conference does not fall on top of Easter, ward level celebrations of Easter only consistently rose to the level of being the subject of talks and hymns during Sacrament meeting.  Specific areas had more local traditions, but it was fairly universal that the lesson materials for the day on Easter were not on the subject of Easter during Sunday School or Priesthood/Relief Society meetings.  As a church, the celebration gets a few hymns and talks on one day.  Other observances are family or locally based.

In the Episcopal tradition, which preserves much of the traditional structure of Catholicism and is mirrored in many elements by other protestant religions, devotes 44 days (including Sundays which are traditionally not counted) to Lent which prepares for Easter, 7 days to Holy Week which re enacts and focuses Worship on the specific New Testament events leading up to Easter, and 50 days to celebrating Easter afterwards.  Or in other words, 101 days focused on Easter either in preparation for it or in remembrance afterwards.  That is 27% of the entire year, focused on one holiday.  The seasons are marked by many specific celebrations, in particular during Holy Week.

Of course, the LDS belief that all of Christendom is in a state of apostasy doesn't produce much cultural borrowing from other worship traditions- especially anything that looks vaguely Catholic.  Also, the LDS holiday traditions are arguably descended from Puritan dominated New England where the celebration of holidays including Easter and Christmas was discouraged.  Even knowing all of that, transitioning from Easter being something that growing up we occasionally honored with a little bit of candy and deviled dyed eggs to having Easter dominate almost one third of the year is startling.  The rapid swing from the sedate worship during Lent to the intense outbreak of joy on Easter makes a profound effect.

Now that I can start to view my past celebrations of Easter from an outsider perspective, there is a stark contrast.  I can respect that Mormonism wishes to be viewed as part of Christianity and I think it deserves to be considered so- just a branch of it that isn't descended directly from the historical flow of events or historical doctrinal progression.  But now it feels distinctly odd for a Christian religion to share so little in the outbreak of joy that makes up the Easter season.  It feels distinctly odd that crosses are typically considered to be taboo or even sometimes offensive symbols in Mormonism.  It feels odd that the statements of recent religious leaders eclipse the words of Christ in the New Testament in theological significance.  Its hard to say that any of that is right or wrong- its simply a different pattern to express faith that I no longer find meaningful for myself.  But the contrast between my present and my past is especially deep in Easter Season.

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