I have a love-hate relationship with Holy Week and Easter. (Okay, hate is too strong. I have a difficult, complicated relationship with Holy Week and Easter.) First, there’s all the hocus-pocus associated with Easter. (Christmas has a lot of hocus-pocus too, but the traditions of Christmas – giving, celebration, family, food) carry me through that one. Then there’s the fact that for choir members, Holy Week is a long, grueling marathon which starts on Palm Sunday and doesn’t end until about noon on Easter Sunday.
But more and more, I’m able to see Holy Week and Easter in a new light, as not about physical dying and rebirth, but about dying to those things that keep us isolated and in pain, in darkness and suffering.
And instead, becoming Real.
I was reminded of this today as I heard again this passage from the children’s book “The Velveteen Rabbit”, by Margery Williams.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.
As was pointed out in today’s sermon, the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, like the story of Easter, is a Resurrection story. And a recovery story. About having to go through the pain to find the healing, to go through the discomfort of learning to be honest so that I can be comfortable in my own skin. About being humble enough to recognize that my power is limited but God’s isn’t. About recognizing that perfection isn’t the goal, but Realness is.
You don’t have to go to church on Easter to become Real. You don’t have to wave palms or wash feet. Those are helpful to me in my path to Realness, as they are a reminder of the journey from darkness to light, from isolation to inclusion and wholeness. Through the pain to the healing.
But whatever your path to Realness, I wish you traveling mercies.