The thing about Easter

What was familiar is new again

The thing about Easter, the Lenten season before it, and indeed most holidays – is that they are pretty much the same thing, year in and year out. That is not to say that’s a BAD thing, merely predictable. Ashes on the forehead. “Hallelujah” is not uttered during Lent. The Last Supper. Then Christ has died. But wait, Christ is risen? And the promise that Christ will come again?!

This year feels DIFFERENT because we didn’t get to complete the ritual in 2020. Ash Wednesday was February 26 that year. But the church was shut down on March 15, coming back in an electronic form on Facebook the following week, and continuing in some ersatz form. Initially, it was just the pastors and some prerecorded music that the choir had sung over the past decade. Then a handful of people recorded some tunes. A soloist might sing in person, and eventually a quartet.

But it wasn’t until October 2021 that the choir, all fully vaxxed, even began to begin to rehearse. For reasons of socially distancing, half the choir sang on November 28 and the others on December 12. Then we all sang on Christmas Eve. We’re back!

Hiccup

Or maybe we’re not. The resurgence of COVID, specifically, the Omicron variant, kept most of the choir sidelined again in January 2022. But we returned in February. On the first of spring, masks became optional. More significantly the congregation came forward to receive communion. Sitting in the choir loft, it’s one of my favorite things to watch. I might have gotten a little verklempt, though officially, I deny it. It’s probably my seasonal allergies.

At the beginning of Spring, the congregation got to sing for the first time in person in two years. They too were missing what used to be the regular way of doing things.

On April 3, we had what would have felt like a “normal” service two years earlier. The choir and the congregation sang the doxology (“praise God from all whom all blessings flow”). Wouldn’t you know, my allergies acted up again! We also sang the psalter and the communion music.

For Holy Week, more traditional activities on Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday, albeit with the return of masks. As Joni Mitchell wrote in a very different context, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

I have to imagine that those who celebrate Ramadan Mubarak, Passover, or other vernal celebrations are experiencing similar sentiments.

1972: the Easter break

Kentucky State College Concert Choir

Robert Yates.Aaron Yates.Audrey
Robert, Aaron, Audrey Yates on Easter Sunday (April 2), 1972 at 29 Ackley Avenue, Johnson City, NY, home of Les and Trudy Green

In the 1972 annals, I had totally forgotten that the Okie came home with me for Easter break, beginning March 28. She drove us from New Paltz to Johnson City, near Binghamton. She met our family friends the Pomeroys.

The next day, we went to my old high school, Binghamton Central, and talked with my friend Carla [we’re still in touch] who yelled to me from a third-story window until a teacher closed it. Also, Amy H. [recently reconnected] and others [who I’ve lost track of]. Saw one of my favorite teachers, John Kellogg [RIP].

March 31 – My good friend Carol and her then-beau drove the Okie and me up old Route 11 from Binghamton to Syracuse to see the new movie The Godfather. [Was it not yet playing locally? Possibly.] Other films I had seen in March 1972: The Importance of Being Earnest; Gimme Shelter; Billy Jack; 2001: A Space Odyssey; and Performance, which I described as “weird”.

April 1 – My cousin Robert Yates, his wife Audrey, and their two-year-old son Aaron came to visit. Robert was my mother’s first cousin. But she was born in 1927, and he in 1946, so he was actually closer to my age. Robert, Audrey, my sister Leslie, and I went bowling at two different venues, in JC and the Vestal Plaza, a total of six games.

Easter Sunday

April 2- A bunch of returning college students, including me, were acknowledged at church. Inspired sermon by Rev. A.C. Bell. After dinner, lots of card games (whist, hearts) with Robert and Audrey, who returned to NYC that day, my parents, the Pomeroys, and me. The Okie also left for her parents’ house.

[Young Aaron was murdered – shot or stabbed, I understand – when he was 18 or 19. This devasted his parents, of course, but Robert became a great father figure, not just to his nieces and nephews, but to kids in the neighborhood. He died in 2016.]

April 3 – I was “supposed to meet some people @ Bing. Pub. Library… but no one showed. Someone mistaking me for an employee I assisted w/ card catalog.” [I did work there as a page two or three years earlier.] Saw familiar faces, including Vito [RIP, 1991], Michael Butler, Don Wheeler, and others.

Later, I interviewed my father for my economics paper.

April 4 – participated in a memorial for MLK, with participation by my church’s choir. Later, my mom’s bowling team won the championship. The US recognized Bangladesh.

KSCCC

April 5 – Adam Clayton Powell died yesterday, and baseball DIDN’T start today.

A concert by the Kentucky State College Concert Choir (KSCCC) was held at First Presbyterian Church. Rev. Roberts, the father of my HS friend Catherine Carson, gave the invocation. The Broome County Urban League officers, which probably included my father, were introduced.

“Guys in black tuxes with white shirts. Gals with pink blouses and light purplish long skirts. They sang four very beautiful classical numbers; I liked to listen to them with my eyes closed. Then a Slavic song and a chant-like song they had done last year. Males sing semi-spirituals and a female soloist sang an operatic song and another piece…

“Mom and I noticed that dad didn’t applaud at all for Motherless Child. Perhaps it means too much for him.” Someone announced that my sister Leslie “has won a scholarship to KSC.” [No, she did not end up going there.]

“Four spirituals with African drums… After the standing ovation, they sang Ain’t A That Good News (like it’s supposed to be sung) and The Battle Hymn of the Republic with a piano intro full of discords, which dad dug.”

Afterward, some co-ed seemed to be flirting with me, which was both awkward and nice. “Leslie auditioned sans choir as the audience like I had last year. [I have no recollection of that happening in 1971.] She sang a capella I Wish I knew How It Would Feel To Be Free rather well. She went with the KSCCC to a party at the Treadway Inn.”

Note that KSC, an HBCU, became Kentucky State University in 1972.

Resurrection, a new way

The Hallelujahs live-streamed on Facebook

First Presbyterian Church. windowThis is different. It’s Easter Sunday. We get up, take showers, and have breakfast. Then we travel, all the way back upstairs, to the office and watch church.

On March 15, church did not happen for me. The sermon was subsequently mailed out. But on March 22, some of our fine technical experts, along with our pastors, presented service on Facebook. The pastors offered scripture, prayers, and sermons, while the service was augmented by song selections from the past four years of the Chancel Choir. There are some tracks from the Bell Choir ss well.

Like anything new, the process has evolved, with hymn texts projected on the screen so that we may sing along. The Presbyterian Church USA has indicated that it was OK to have communion at home, and we did on Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday.

The Good Friday worship service was the scripture readings traditionally referred to as “the last seven words.” Additional readings from Psalms, the Gospels, and the epistles expanded on the message. The readings were separated by sung responses from the Taizé Community, a Christian community in France known for its contemplative, meditative music. The service concluded with music, and we were invited to ponder Jesus’ death before departing in silence.

Easter?

And now we’re in the resurrection mode. Funny thing, though. Instead of passing on chocolate for Lent, we had given up hugs and handshakes and even face-to-face contact. On the other hand, Lent isn’t all about refraining from, but taking on. We’re taking on “an abundance of caution” and handmade masks. We work from home, or in perilous conditions if we’re working at all.

And Easter doesn’t change that. Not yet.

Still, we celebrate Easter Worship Service today. The Hallelujahs may be live streaming on Facebook – my church’s service is at 10 a.m. EDT – but I hold onto hope. I must, for my own sake. Being part of a community, even one I only “see” because of the zeroes and ones on my computer screen, is still a blessing.

Easter AND April Fool’s Day

One-in-five express an opposition to organized religion in general.

There’s probably some sort of theological joke I should make here, how, after Easter, when most of the disciples saw Jesus, doubting Thomas, who was not present, said, “You’re kidding me!”

The last time Easter was on April 1 was in 1956; no wonder I don’t remember it. But before that, it was in 1945, 1934, and 1923, each eleven years apart. There was another wave in the 19th century: 1888, 1877, 1866, eleven years apart.

After 2018, it’ll happen again in 2029 and 2040. Yup, 11 years. This kind of thing fascinates me.

So why is it that modern Christianity isn’t appealing to more people? Is it that secularism is “winning”?

Or is it that some folks, purporting to lift the Christian banner, foolishly embrace concepts that do not seem to be consistent with Jesus’ teachings of feeding the hungry and welcoming the outcast? Those looking from the outside may think, understandably, “If THAT is Christianity, to hell what that!”

Interesting results of some Pew Research polling in the last couple years:

The term “spiritual but not religious” label applies to a growing share of Americans. And the methodology was fascinating – The survey “asked two separate questions: ‘Do you think of yourself as a religious person, or not?’ and ‘Do you think of yourself as a spiritual person, or not?’ The results presented here are the product of combining responses to those two questions.”

A growing share of Americans say it’s not necessary to believe in God to be moral. Interestingly, “attitudes about the necessity of belief in God for morality have also changed among those who do identify with a religion.”

And the vast majority of these religious “nones” (78%) say they were raised as a member of a particular religion before shedding their religious identity in adulthood. “One-in-five express an opposition to organized religion in general. This share includes some who do not like the hierarchical nature of religious groups, several people who think religion is too much like a business and others who mention clergy sexual abuse scandals as reasons for their stance.”

Having gone about 360 degrees in my own religious quest – no, that’s not correct, since I didn’t end up in the same place as I started – I understand more than most the feelings of those who believe in God and those who don’t.

I DO wish each side could find a way to hear the other’s point of view. But perhaps that’s my own foolishness.

Easter music throwback: Hallelujah (Beethoven)

I’ve been singing it, off and on for about a half century myself, including this very day.

As I’ve mentioned before, when my sister Leslie and I were in high school in Binghamton, NY, we somehow had the opportunity to visit an eighth-grade class in suburban Vestal. It was only a few miles from the county seat, but, in the late 1960s, it was a cultural canyon.

What was amazing about this group was that they put out an album of classical and popular music. And one of the pieces was Hallelujah, from Christ on the Mount of Olives, Opus 85, an oratorio by Beethoven. They were rather good, as I recall. Where IS that LP?

From the Wikipedia: “[The oratorio] was begun in the fall of 1802… The libretto in German is by the poet Franz Xaver Huber, editor of the Wiener Zeitung, with whom Beethoven worked closely. It was written in a very short period; in a letter to Breitkopf & Härtel written shortly after the oratorio’s completion, Beethoven spoke of having written it in ‘a few weeks,’ although he later claimed that the piece required no more than 14 days to complete. It was first performed on April 5, 1803 at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna; in 1811, it was revised by Beethoven for publication by Breitkopf & Härtel. The 10 years that passed between the composition of the work and its publication resulted in its being assigned a relatively high opus number.”

While the piece as a whole has had mixed response, including from the composer himself, “the “Welten singen…” finale chorus has enjoyed some popularity on its own.

And I’ve been singing it, off and on for about a half century myself, including this very day. There’s a surprise chord about 30 seconds before the end which is always my favorite.

LISTEN: to Hallelujah:

Mormon Tabernacle Choir

William Baker Festival Singers, Guest Singers from Area Parish Choirs, and Symphony Orchestra

Chancel Choir; Scott Dean, director; Wayne Slater, organist. June 12, 2016

HAPPY EASTER!

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