Those Easter mornings, my mother made hot cross buns. I remember them well, their butter-basted crowns glistening in the light with cross-shaped frosting dripping down the sides. I can smell their warm, sweet aroma filling the house. I can taste them, their yeast-leavened dough punctuated by tart raisins and sweet candied fruit hidden inside.
There were other Easter traditions. We dressed up in our fancy clothes and rode to church in Dad’s old Pontiac. We shouted, “He is risen!” to our friends and sang, “Up from the Grave He Arose” with the choir. Afterwards was dinner at Grandma’s house with roast beef, green beans and ham and then, since spring was coming, a walk down to Magnuson Park along the shores of Lake Washington.
I had no idea at the time that we were participating in a tradition dating back 2,000 years. I did not know that we were joining in rituals practiced by millions around the world that very day. I just knew I enjoyed the hot cross buns, the ladies in their fancy hats, and the promise of spring.
Now I know better. Now I know that we are part of a procession stretching back two millennia, a long line of believers who gather every spring to retell and rejoice over the news of an empty tomb in a garden in Jerusalem.
I know that ours was a small part in a much grander narrative, a vast community of men and women, young and old, who have celebrated this day through the ages.
On these Easter mornings, as our ragtag group huddles for warmth around a beachside bonfire at Camp Woodworth, I am mindful of other congregations out there in the cold with us, gathered at the Purdy Spit, Herron Island, and private yards and homes around the Key Peninsula. My thoughts drift further to saints around the world, some in cathedrals, some in forests, some in caves. Our songs and prayers rise over the Salish Sea to join with a community of celebrants across oceans and across time.
This is the way of tradition, locals rehearsing the universal while the universal derives from a collective of localities. One family, one community enacts familiar rituals, passing them from generation to generation in home or sanctuary, and so stories, beliefs and customs carry us along as part of something much larger. Those stories, beliefs and customs bring cohesion and help make sense of our often chaotic and uncertain lives.
Since those Easter mornings I have learned of the many traditions and customs beyond my own experience. While Christians celebrate Holy Week and Easter, our Jewish neighbors are commemorating Pesach, or Passover. Others are marking rites of spring, delineating the changing seasons as Earth continues its orbit around the sun. There are the secular rituals of tuning lawn mowers, organizing camping gear, and preparing gardens in anticipation of the coming of summer. We all have our traditions in the spring.
Traditions connect us to the past, they help us organize our understanding of the world, they remind us of ancestors, and they bind us to a community larger than ourselves. Traditions remind us of what is important. Traditions build memories that carry us through difficult moments and help us know the place from which we’ve come and the people to whom we belong.
Of course, not all traditions are healthy, nor must they all be permanent. Sometimes we carry on traditions long past their expiration date. Tradition can and often has been weaponized in the name of power and control. Plenty of traditions carry prejudicial undertones best consigned to history.
Even then, in the questioning, we learn about ourselves, our history and our culture. Traditions are meant to bring life and purpose, and at their best never demand mindless allegiance. The very act of challenging tradition can lead to new life. Traditions serve us whether we embrace them or deconstruct them.
In the coming days, we will be gathering to remember the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus. There will be music and beachside bonfires and declarations of life and hope. I assume there will be Easter egg hunts. Our friends will celebrate Passover. My neighbors will be pulling out their gardening tools. The traditions of spring are upon us as the world awakes from its winter slumber.
As for me, I’m still looking for that hot cross bun recipe. If you have a good one, let me know.
Award-winning columnist Dan Whitmarsh is pastor at Lakebay Community Church.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS