Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Page 258 in the green Church Hymnal

Oh how I love Easter!

When I was a little girl, it psychologically signaled the return of Alabama springtime and warm weather. It meant a new, pretty dress, lacy ankle socks, a brand-new pair of patent leather shoes, white gloves and (sometimes) even a new hat. And...of Easter basket, complete with a tall, hollow chocolate bunny. (I always ate the ears first.)

The Friday and Saturday before Easter were a flurry of activity--what with all the cooking and trips to K-Mart in Gardendale to purchase last-minute lacy socks, plastic grass and Paas egg-dyeing kits.

Some years, on Saturday morning, daddy and Kevin and I would go to the local chicken house to buy the several dozen eggs needed for the weekend festivities. (Now that's a smell you never quite forget.) Then, we'd bring them home, and our kitchen would become Easter egg central.

Mama would put two or three huge pots of water on the stove. Then she'd gingerly place about two to three dozen eggs in them.

My responsibility was to configure the egg-dyeing assembly line, using old plastic butter dishes. (I'd use the term "recycled" butter dishes, but I don't think that word existed in the '60s.) I'd fill each empty butter bowl with a Paas tablet, a couple spoons of vinegar and some water. (To this day, the smell of vinegar makes me want to dye Easter eggs.)

My part only took about two minutes, so the rest of the time I'd drive mama crazy asking, "Are they done yet?" After about the fifth or tenth time, she'd yell, "Just go outside and play!"

Even when the eggs were done, I'd have to wait for them to cool off before dyeing could begin. Inevitably, I'd get impatient and burn my fingers on a too-hot egg.

At some point, daddy would mosey in, scoop one up, "shell" it, and then bite into it, sprinkling dashes of salt and pepper as he ate.

Then...FINALLY...the dyeing could begin. Kevin and I would take turns with our "favorite" colors. Usually, he'd grow bored with the whole thing and I'd have to finish up his pile of eggs. One year, Phillip Reno joined us, and he and Phillip decided to use that little wax Paas crayon to draw anatomically correct "stick" men on their eggs before dipping them into the dye. (Yeah... my thoughts exactly.)

I never could get my eggs to stay on those stupid little wire holders. Even if I could have, I always liked to get a little creative, dipping one end of the egg in one color and the other end in another color. One year, I remember using that wax crayon to write "I love Bobby Sherman" and then dipping that egg in red dye, which always turned out pink.

Come Easter morning, my fingers were still stained with all the colors of our Easter eggs. (I'll bet that's why mama always bought me new Easter gloves.)

The Saturday night before Easter was probably the second most exciting night of the year...right behind Christmas Eve. Before bed, mama would put pin curls in my hair so it would be ready for Easter morning. I'd go to sleep thinking about the pretty new dress I'd get to put on the next morning and the basket that bunny would magically leave on my front porch.

Once Sunday morning came, I'd hop out of bed (pin curls barely hanging on), grab that basket and bite off those chocolate ears.

One Easter, mama bought me this dress that had a high waist (to better accommodate my chubby tummy) and a white short-sleeved jacket with pink trim around the sleeves. I loved that dress. I think that was the same year she bought Kevin a little plaid jacket and bow tie with matching shorts. (These days, he claims he looked just like Peewee Herman in that get-up, but mama thought he was adorable.)

After Easter clothes were donned, pin curls brushed out, patent-leather shoes fastened over new lacy socks and the bow tie clipped onto the squirmy little brother's neck, we'd head to the Kimberly Church of God. (Even daddy became a Pentecostal on Easter Sunday!)

Every year, Sister Mary (or some other Harden) would walk up on stage and say something like: "Would everyone in the congregation please stand and turn to number 258 in the hymnal." (For those of you who didn't grow up in the Kimberly Church of God, number 258 in the green Church Hymnal is my all-time Easter favorite, "Christ Arose!") Of course, it was most often preceded and/or followed by numbers 188 and 272 "in the green Church Hymnal."

Funny thing...I don't remember one single Easter sermon from my childhood, but I DO remember every word to those songs. (Thank you, Sister Mary.) If I "listen" real close, I can still "hear" the Dodd brothers and Brother Leonard singing tenor and bass on the choruses.

At some point during the morning, Joy and Pam and I would find each other and would oooh and aaah over each other's new dresses and purses and shiny shoes.

After church, daddy and mama and me and Kevin would head for Mama Kelley's house, along with all the other uncles and aunts and cousins. Her kitchen counter seemed to almost sag under the weight of the Easter ham and all the other traditional delicacies--mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, dressing, green beans, fried corn, Aunt Barbara's coca-cola salad, etc., etc., and, of course, deviled eggs. (I always thought the sister-in-law who brought the deviled eggs got off a little easy--since she had to boil Easter eggs anyway.) For some reason, on Easter, a homemade coconut cake was always the "special" featured dessert.

Before lunch, Mimi would insist on the requisite picture- and movie-taking. We'd all line up--either in the strip of grass between Mama Kelley and Uncle Shirrel's driveways or in front of Mama Kelley's flower beds--with the boy cousins begrudgingly still wearing their Easter Sunday finest, and all of us with baskets in tow, painfully grinning "Cheeeeezzz."

After lunch, all the cousins would, of course, hunt eggs. Some Easters, we'd have two or three egg hunts, up and down any Kelley yard along Stouts Road. My favorite egg-hunting yard was my Uncle Brady and Aunt Snow's house. You see, I knew Bobby Bishop would eventually show up there to hunt eggs--I had such a crush on him.

Eventually, we'd all call it a day and walk back to our individual Kelley houses, where I'd ingest a little more chocolate rabbit and a lot more malted milk eggs while I watched "The Wonderful World of Disney." (I have to be honest--one of my favorite things about childhood Easters was not having to go to church on Sunday night!)

This morning, my brother reminded me about the year that mama worked at K-Mart. The week after Easter, she came home from work with bagfuls of Easter candy--chocolate rabbits, malted milk eggs, marshmallow name it, those bags held it. Needless to say, we were two chocolate-smeared, sugar-rushed, happy kids. And...the envy of our now-empty-basketed cousins.

These days, the new-lacy-sock-and-patent-leather-shoe Easters of my childhood have been replaced with unruffled reflections on the horrible, but beautiful events surrounding Calvary. I realize that even Easter is approached with a certain amount of "gravity."

Don't get me wrong. I realize there is "a time to put away childish things," but I have to ask myself if, in the process, I've lost the child-like excitement that Easter promises for those who believe in its Risen Savior.

I mean...just think about it...not only did Jesus take the punishment for our sin on that horrible cross. But, when He rose up on that Sunday morning, He conquered--overcame, subdued, vanquished--Death itself. We who belong to Him no longer have to fear it--He has transformed it into the door that simply takes us Him.

Maybe that's why the first words He spoke after He walked out of that borrowed tomb were: "Why are you crying?" and "Do not be afraid."

Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!

Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,
Vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!

Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior;
He tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave He arose (He arose);
With a mighty triumph o'er His foes (He arose);
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
and He lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! (He arose.)
He arose! (He arose.)
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

(The above parentheses show where the Dodd brothers and Brother Leonard and the other basses and tenors would echo out "He arose".)

Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah,
his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross,
we're a free people—
free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds.
And not just barely free. Abundantly free!
He thought of everything,
provided for everything we could possibly need….
It's in Christ that we find out who we are
and what we are living for….
It's in Christ that you,
once you heard the truth and believed it…,
found yourselves home free—
signed, sealed and delivered by the Holy Spirit.…
Oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—
endless energy, boundless strength!
All this energy issues from Christ:
God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven,
in charge of running the universe,
everything from galaxies to governments,
no name and no power exempt from his rule.
And not just for the time being, but forever.
He is in charge of it all,
has the final word on everything.
….It wasn't so long ago
that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin.
You let the world,
which doesn't know the first thing about living,
tell you how to live.…We all did it,
all of us doing what we felt like doing,
when we felt like doing it,
all of us in the same boat.
It's a wonder God didn't lose his temper
and do away with the whole lot of us.
Instead, immense in mercy
and with an incredible love, he embraced us.
He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.
He did all this on his own, with no help from us!
…Now God has us where he wants us,
with all the time in this world and the next
to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus.
Saving is all his idea, and all his work.
All we do is trust him enough to let him do it.
It's God's gift from start to finish!
…Now because of Christ—
dying that death, shedding that blood—
you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.
….That's plain enough, isn't it?
You're no longer wandering exiles.
This kingdom of faith is now your home country.
You're no longer strangers or outsiders.
You belong here,
with as much right to the name Christian as anyone.
God is building a home. He's using us all—
irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building.
He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation.
Now he's using you,
fitting you in brick by brick,
stone by stone,
with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone
that holds all the parts together.
We see it taking shape day after day—
a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it,
a temple in which God is quite at home.
(From Ephesians 1-2, The Message)

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