An Easter Egg Hunt in the Shadow of the Cross

Maybe you’ve had this “discussion” (polite church-folk-speak for argument) at your church: when is it OK to have the children’s Easter Egg Hunt?  At one church I served, parents could not understand why I, as their pastor, vetoed holding the church Easter egg hunt on Good Friday afternoon.  “But they have a half-day at school, so the timing is perfect!” they argued.  Others balked at holding it after worship on Easter Sunday—people had places to go and brunches to eat, after all. 

“What about the dead day?”  Yep.  That’s what one little girl in another church I served called Holy Saturday, the day between the Good Friday crucifixion and Easter morning’s empty tomb. She reasoned Good Friday was about Jesus dying.  Easter was about his rising from the dead.  So, Saturday = the dead day.

Saturday it was. 

The thing about the church courtyard was that it had a 3-D concrete cube-shaped cross right smack in the middle of it, just tall enough to resemble a jungle gym (which is how most children engaged with it on a weekly basis).  As I watched (and cringed) as the adult volunteers hid the Easter eggs around the courtyard (and even on the cross!), I remembered a colleague of mine who faced a similar dilemma at his church.

Rather than concrete, the cross in the center of his church’s courtyard was made of white metal and during Holy Week they draped it in black. But the black draping wasn’t enough to dissuade them from holding their annual Easter egg hunt right there in the courtyard, all around the cross on—you guessed it—The Dead Day.  When he first arrived to serve this congregation, he was horrified at what he referred to as “the Annual Holy Saturday Sacrilege,” a.k.a. the Holy Saturday Easter Egg Hunt.  He tried to use his new pastor honeymoon period to get the event moved to a different day. As a part of his lobbying effort, he took a wise and influential, as well as liturgically sensitive, church council member out to the courtyard to witness the Easter egg hunt spectacle. “Do you see that cross, and all those children, hunting eggs on Holy Saturday? I feel there’s incongruence here, a mixed message,” he said to her. She replied, “I agree. I think Holy Saturday is one big mixed message. Let the children hunt. It seems fitting.” And she turned and walked back inside, leaving a confused pastor in her wake.

I believe his church council member was on to something.  Holy Saturday mixes the messages of Good Friday and Easter, and invites us to live in the tension of already-but-not-yet.  Rev. Dr. Paul Hooker, Dean of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, suggests that the incongruence and tension of Holy Saturday, and all the days of Holy Week, make them “thin places,” a term used in Celtic spirituality to describe places where the boundary between our reality and God’s seems especially porous and permeable.  Each of the days of Holy Week, he says, in a procession that leads “from triumphal entry to empty tomb, and along the way through Maundy Thursday’s table, Good Friday’s agonizing death, and the awkward silence of Holy Saturday… [each] is in its own way pregnant with the immanence of God.”

My colleague ultimately lost his battle to end “the Annual Holy Saturday Sacrilege.” Years later, he explained in the most beautiful way how he has learned to be OK with it.  May his words be a blessing to you this Holy Week:

What do we do with this strange day, [Holy Saturday], after the torments of Good Friday, the failures of courage, the startling wail of Jesus about the abandonment of God? What do we do when we sense in the closed tomb encasing the body of the Anointed One not a thin place, but a chasm so large it hints at nothingness? This may be the most honest day of Holy Week. It dares to say that the darkness of the chaotic Good Friday lingered into the quiet desperation and grief of Saturday in such a way that the church called it “Holy.” And therefore we can dare to say in the midst of the darknesses that consume our lives and th life of our world that even there, in that place, in whatever tombs encase us, even there, hidden from our sight, a presence abides, and makes even Saturday holy. The children seem to sense it, this holiness hidden like an egg in the tall grass, a splash of color hinting at joy to come. And so they dance around the cross draped in black, acknowledging the Holy, anticipating … what exactly? It is too soon for us to say. After all, it is Holy Saturday. There’s incongruence, some mixed messages, a fair amount of confusion, dancing in black. In other words, the place most of us live a good bit of the time. That place—dare we say it? —is holy.

Rev. Christopher Joiner
First Presbyterian Church of Franklin, Tennessee