An Easter Message

“Hannah, can you hear me?” Paulette Goddard as the hope of the world in “The Great Dictator”

Holidays in the western world are a Pagan thing, a Roman Thing. The earliest Christians (the last true Christians, the kind of people who gave their lives rather than deviate from their principles, which meant unwavering self-denying altruism and suicidal non-violence) were against holidays as sensuous distractions, the very opposite, in fact, of everything their religion valued. But the conversion of Pagan (Gentile) Europe meant compromise, and church leaders and theologians were fairly ingenious at how they wed the two seemingly incompatible religious systems together.

Christmas, Halloween and Easter are the most visible fruits of those efforts. Halloween errs on the side of Paganism, but I’m from the Episcopal church which does a very good job of reminding its parishioners that Halloween is “actually” All Hallow’s Eve — the night before All Souls Day. These three holidays (Christmas, Halloween, East) are married to the seasonal pivots, which were holidays in the Pagan world. As is the holiday for the fourth season, summer, though that one for us in America is a little more scattershot. In Europe there are things like St John’s Eve, Midsummer etc but here in the U.S., the Fourth of July finally wound up serving that purpose. That holiday evolved quite differently and has its own specific, separate meanings but serves the same purpose…the picnics and cookouts and so forth celebrate the arrival of summer.

At any rate, over time, I’ve finally come to appreciate Easter. As any former child can tell you, of the four seasonal holidays, Easter generally comes in a distant fourth. John Oliver cracked a joke about it a few weeks ago, quipping that Easter is like a form of Christmas where all you get is a basket of beans. Oliver is a comedian. Hopefully, adults have more investment in their symbolic holy days beyond what they will “get”. The crucial thing about Easter (and the vernal equinox) is that they are about renewal, a clean slate, the possibility of starting over again. When I was a kid, those were a bunch of boring words. Kids ARE the chicks. That’s scarcely a metaphor, it’s just about literally true. What does a baby care about babies? An infant does not contemplate infancy. You have to have seen a good many Easters go by before you start saying, “I wish I could start this whole thing over again”. Not only must a lot of water have passed under the bridge, but a good many doors must have now been CLOSED to you, perhaps never to be open again. The things you didn’t do, perhaps you will now never do.

Perhaps. But. Except. Spring and Easter are here to remind us that regrets are wintertime thinking and winter isn’t forever. Though the present moment undoubtedly SUCKS (and let us extend the Easter portrait by saying that it sucks EGGS) things can and will get better, in fact MUST get better as part of the natural order of things. Maybe not two minutes from now, but they WILL get better. I promise.

This year Easter happens to fall on Charlie Chaplin’s birthday. I can’t think of a more heartening Easter message for today than Chaplin’s speech at the end of The Great Dictator. The text and the clip are both available at the official Chaplin web site here. 


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