Nothing joyful about Easter memories for me
I wasn’t there and I didn’t do it. I hadn’t even been born at the time!
For a long time I always associated Easter with guilt. Although my family would try to stuff me with chocolate, and church would try to tell me it was joyful with antiquated, mournful melodies, it is the feeling of guilt that lingers in my memory. I partially blame it on Aunt Lil.
Aunt Lil wasn’t a real aunt – just a kind lady that used to provide hospitality and a warm fireplace to a lost adolescent. Relatively recently, after two years in psychotherapy, my therapist and I concluded that I have spent my whole life looking for my mother. Aunt Lil was one of the many that I have found en route.
For all sorts of reasons that I won’t bore you with now, my mother was ‘absent’ for a lot of my formative years. After my mother died when I was a teenager, my father and I often popped round to Aunt Lil’s – a kind lady from the local Methodist church who would sometimes cook a meal for us and offer cheese and biscuits when my father came out of the pub. She was a widow and seemed to welcome the company, and we appreciated her care. I spent a lot of time round Aunt Lil’s chatting and drinking tea, listening to how much she missed her husband, and sharing my own teenage angst.
Although Aunt Lil and I shared a sense of mischief, Easter Sunday was always very serious. When we first knew her, she wouldn’t go to the Easter morning communion service. Although she would take communion throughout the year, she wouldn’t on Easter Sunday. She told us she wasn’t good enough. Jesus had died for her. Easter was special. She wasn’t good enough for Jesus, especially on the weekend that we celebrated his death, so she couldn’t bring herself to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
When the minister got to hear of it, he apparently gave her a good Christian talking to. I wasn’t there, but having been around churches for most of the early and middle part of my life, I can imagine what was said. Communion is not for people who feel good enough, but for those who are sorry. We can never be good enough for god, that is why he sent his son as a sacrifice (to himself). We shouldn’t hold back from god, but draw close to him.
That apparently did the trick, and Aunt Lil started to go to communion on Easter Sunday morning. But, there was a catch. In order to demonstrate how sorry she was that she had caused the humiliating and painful execution of god’s son by the heinousness of her sin, she would fast – go without food and drink (other than water) – between teatime on Saturday until teatime on Easter Sunday. It would somehow demonstrate to an all-knowing god how really, really, really sorry she was, and how seriously she was taking the whole thing. After church on Easter Sunday morning, I could have a cup of tea round Aunt Lil’s, but she couldn’t. She felt guilty about Easter, and I couldn’t avoid seeing it.
I don’t know why I was enslaved for so long to a story of a deity that has to cause his own son to be tortured to death in order to appease himself, and that somehow this appeasement worked for all time for the whole world for those who apparently chose to believe in him (but who somehow had also been mysteriously pre-ordained to do so). However, now that I am not, I am gladly able to shed the guilt for my part in the death of a first century religious leader in a country a long way from where I was born.
Do I feel guilt about things I have done wrong? Sure. Do I feel regret and pain for some of the big things I have done wrong years ago? Yes, I do. But interestingly, I would still feel that pain and regret, whether or not I believed that Jesus died for my sins and had forgiven me.
Now that I am free from a barbaric myth about an expiatory execution that is supposed to both induce guilt and somehow free me from it, and now I know that life is not a dress-rehearsal, but the real thing, guilt is a real emotion that I have to deal with. Let me share some questions that I occasionally find myself asking.
- Is this guilt legitimate or illegitimate? Do I really need to feel guilty about this? So, and so is trying to make me feel guilty and accusing me of upsetting them, but I have done nothing wrong, what I said was true and I said it in an appropriate way. They have chosen to take it badly, but that is not my responsibility. I spoke authentically about my feelings in an appropriate way. I don’t need to accept the guilt they are trying to load onto me.
- Is this guilt proportionate disproportionate? Ok, going five miles an hour over the speed limit was bad, but I wasn’t drunk or on drugs or driving without due care and attention, so I was wrong here, but I didn’t behave extremely badly.
- Is this guilt boundaried or unlimited? There is a time to feel guilty, and a time to stop. I have choices about whether I continue to wallow in unproductive guilt, or whether I can deal with the paralysis and move on. If unforgiveness is choosing to hold something against someone, and forgiveness is choosing not to go on holding something against someone, I have real choices about whether or not I forgive myself. I can choose to put a boundary on my guilt by consciously choosing to forgive myself (whether or not others have forgiven me). God may demand perfection, but I know I am living with a fallible human being.
- Is this guilt productive or wasted? What have I learned from my failings? What steps have I put in place to help me avoid messing up again? How will this experience of failure make my life better?
Easter never used to be a particularly good time for me, but I can now honestly say that I wasn’t there and I didn’t do it. It’s great to be free from all that!