IN GOOD FAITH
By the Rev. Tim Schenck
It’s not about the Peeps. It’s a fringe benefit, of course. But Easter is not about the Peeps. Now, don’t get me wrong; I consider Peeps to be an Easter miracle in and of themselves. How else do you explain the popularity of those delectable chick-shaped marshmallow novelty treats? How else do you explain the unnaturally bright yellow of the classic Peep (well, besides a heavy infusion of Yellow Number #5). How else do you explain the incredibly long shelf life of your average Peep? As long as you don’t open the plastic packaging, it may well last until the Second Coming.
But as I said, Easter is not about the Peeps. I realize there’s confusion around this issue, however. Walk into any drugstore and the entire Easter display is highlighted by rows and rows of Peeps. And not just the classic yellow Peep – you can now get them in lavender, pink, blue, and white. Call me a Peep fundamentalist but these are all anathema to me. Give me yellow or I’m switching to jelly beans!
Now I’m not sure how or when the Peep became linked with the marking of Jesus’ resurrection in America. And the minor “miracle” of Peep technology set within the context of the truly miraculous Easter story pales in comparison. But once we recognize the real miracle of Easter: the empty tomb, Christ’s victory over sin and death, and our own redemption, we’re better attuned to the minor miracles that abound in this life. Once we recognize that through the resurrection of Jesus we are forgiven, healed, redeemed, and loved, we can move on to see the minor miracles that surround us. And there are many – the reconciling of a broken relationship with a friend; taking the dog for a walk and reveling in the beauty of the spring weather; or walking into a church and recognizing for the first time in awhile that, yes, God is in relationship with me. That God loves me for who I am rather than who I seek to become.
This week, throughout the world, Christians will be marking the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The liturgies of Holy Week allow us to fully participate in this, not as passive observers but as active participants. For the stories of this week are our stories; the drama is our drama; the victory is our victory. But we must be fully engaged in order to be fully transformed. You can’t experience the breadth of Easter joy without first experiencing the agony of the cross. Or at least reflecting upon it. Otherwise you end up crashing from the sugar high – as if Easter morning was spent downing Peep after Peep with no genuine sustenance in sight. Which sounds dandy until the inevitable crash.
Wherever you worship this year, I encourage you to embrace the Christian “High Holy Days:” Maundy (Holy) Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. Of course we also have services on Easter Sunday at St. John’s — three of them to be precise. So consider this an invitation — to my own church or any church in Hingham this week. You won’t be disappointed and your faith will surely be deepened along the way. I know how difficult it can be to enter the doors of a church for the first time. “Will they be annoyingly hard sell? Will I be smothered with pleasantries? Will I know what to do? Will they make me stand up and introduce myself?” But I bid you to overcome the feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty. You’ll be glad you did.
One final word about Peeps. Last year I was a “celebrity” judge in a contest called “All God’s Peeps” that took place in Maryland. Besides playing fast and loose with the word “celebrity,” the organizers encouraged people to submit photos of shoe box dioramas depicting scenes from the Bible using Peeps. There was a Jesus Peep walking on water, a David Peep slaying a giant chocolate Easter bunny Goliath, etc. You quite literally had to see this to believe it. But perhaps there is a more significant role for Peeps on Easter than I give them credit for. Or maybe my own sugar high is one Peep away from delusion. In any case, I wish you all a most blessed Easter.
Now, this never happened when I was in Sunday School: marshmallow Peeps used to illustrate a Bible story. You just gotta love hip, creative Sunday School teachers. Especially when they ply their trade at your parish as opposed to the “competition” across town (just kidding St. Mary’s, Trinity, and St. Paul’s).
Inspired by a link I forwarded about the Diocese of Maryland’s Peep-based Biblical diorama contest, our elementary school-aged kids were treated to a tasty lesson about the Feeding of the 5,000. They listened to the story and then re-created the scene using Peeps. Jesus was a yellow bunny, the disciples were pink bunnies, the crowds were every other unnatural color you could imagine, the “loaves” were jelly beans and the “fish” were Swedish fish. Brilliant!
The kids had a blast and, more importantly, this is now a story that they will never, ever forget. And isn’t that really the underlying point in all of this?
Of course they also got to eat their fill of Easter candy along the way. As Coffee Hour was winding down, the edible Scripture was deemed fair game. I can’t imagine why my boys had absolutely no desire to eat lunch after church. Hmmmm. I think Ben alone had about 13 Peeps. Including, I’m slightly mortified to admit, Jesus. As we were leaving he proudly announced, “Dad, I ate Jesus.”
Hah! Can’t get a rise out of me that easily. This is, after all, what eucharistic theology is all about. Perhaps that’s a future Peep-inspired lesson…
I’m afraid that when the Temple curtain was torn in two this year, Ben and Zack got a glimpse behind another curtain: they no longer believe in the Easter Bunny. Now I admit I’m not a big fan of the Easter Bunny. We’ve had our run-ins in the past — which I can’t go into (though “egg hunts” on Good Friday were involved). But generally I take a “don’t ask don’t tell” approach to the Easter Bunny: Bryna is welcome to encourage the arrival of the bunny on Easter morning; I just don’t want to hear anything about. Nor will I enable the Easter Bunny by abetting her like some sort of Paschal elf.
This year, however, I overheard a great conversation between the boys a few days before Easter in which they agreed there couldn’t possibly be any such thing. Ben: “A big bunny hopping all around the world delivering candy? Yeah, right.” Zack: “Plus bunnies can’t even swim. How would it be able to take Easter baskets to China?” Good point.
So they know. Which is fine with me since it’s not a myth I care to perpetuate. Bryna just smiles and uses that old parental cliché, “You have to believe to receive.” In reality, I don’t think they care about the delivery system as much as the end result. They certainly “believe” in Peeps, jelly beans, and chocolate bunnies.
Funny, though. There’s been no talk about that other gift bearing icon; the one who shows up in December. I guess his sleigh helps him get to China. Plus, at this stage, not even our guys want to mess with a good thing.
It’s very strange to wake up on Easter Monday not feeling completely spent. By this time my head’s usually still spinning from leading eight intense services in four days. And I’m ready to crawl into a cave and roll a large stone in front of the entrance. Hey, he’s not using it anyway.
Easter morning was glorious. We worshiped at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC. We actually needed to get tickets in and, while I was curious about what they’d bring on the open market, I didn’t scalp them. Though I had fun imagining the headline in the next day’s edition of The New York Post: Priest Scalps Easter Tix, Spends Night in Overcrowded Tomb.
A friend at the diocese hooked us up with four great seats in the Great Choir — reserved seating at that (my name was plastered on the back of them). Which meant we could go to the world-famous Hungarian Pastry Shop across the street and then waltz in during the prelude.
Easter morning at the Cathedral is everything you’d imagine. Bishop Sisk was the preacher and celebrant, the music was stunning (choir, harp, timpani, brass, etc), two flaming pots of incense, four sets of crucifers and acolytes, various liturgical functionaries. All in one of the most beautiful settings in the world. Not a bad place to be a priest without a parish. And it was very special to be there sitting in the pews with my family. I even wore a suit and tie rather than clericals — it’s been awhile but, yes, I remembered how to tie it.
When you attend a nearly two-hour service with kids, you’ve got to come prepared. We were armed with the usual accoutrements — grapes, cheese sticks (things that don’t crunch!), and lots of art supplies. During the bishop’s sermon (all about living a life of hope and peace in the midst of ongoing conflict) Zack was very actively coloring an elaborate Star Wars battle. There were light sabers and lasers flying everywhere resulting in large-scale death and destruction. At The Peace I handed it to the bishop’s wife (who was sitting behind us) and said, “Here’s Zack’s response to your husband’s sermon.” She loved it.
One more note about the service. During communion Judy Collins sang something — this is the kind of thing you get at the Cathedral on Easter morning. Now I’d heard of her (and she was only sitting about eight people over from us) but when I asked Father Patrick Ward what he knew about her on our six-mile run this morning, I inadvertantly shed light on my inexcusable ignorance. He was staggered by my lack of musical knowledge and metaphorically slapped me. Evidently she’s bigger than I knew — 1975 Grammy winner for “Send in the Clowns,” has recorded with Arlo Guthrie, and is the “Judy Blue Eyes” of Crosby, Stills and Nash fame. She’s also the Artist in Residence at the Cathedral.
Oh well. Perhaps I’d better book her now for next year’s Easter service.