Easter’s shattering reality
Written by: Michelle Francl-Donnay
“So, when are we going to break them?” wondered my youngest son as he emptied the dishwasher. My mind was fixed firmly on dinner and the week’s complex logistics, clearly I had missed something key. “Break what?” “The plants. The instructions say to break them on Easter.”
A budding scientist at 15, Chris can be as literal minded as Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory. Just before Christmas I bought two glass terraria at our local farmers market. Clear glass orbs small enough to cup in my hand, each planted with a single succulent. The clarity and simplicity of the containers attracted me — that and their low maintenance. A sunny window and the occasional tablespoon of water was all the care they needed.
The instructions had been clear. The tiny plants would within a few months outgrow their containers, at which point you must (carefully) shatter the glass and pot them up, where they could grow without restraint. Plants bought at Christmas should be ready to pot at Easter. Or as Chris would have it, on Easter.
The diminutive cacti have grown full in their clear glass enclosures, one has even sent shoots through the narrow neck. It’s time to break them open, but I find myself flinching at the mere thought of wrapping them in paper and cloth and hitting them with a hammer. No matter how gently done, this is not a benign procedure. It is meant to shatter, to destroy. There is no going back, once begun. The plants are still beautiful in their containers, not yet feeling the effects of the confinement. But unless I can steel myself to breaking open the glass, the plants will be forever stunted. Not today, I think, not this week. Perhaps the next?
The first contemplation of the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises invites you to imagine the Trinity looking down upon the whole expanse of the earth, seeing what we’d wrought, and when the time was ripe sending the Word to pitch His tent among us. As Easter approached this year, I began to imagine the Trinity once again looking down on us, waiting for the fullness of time, steeling themselves for what must be done, for the moment when death’s grip would be once and for all shattered. Today? Is today the day?
The beauty of what had been grown in Galilee would not deter Them from the path they had committed to at the Annunciation. Not the healing of those in pain, not the joy of the entrance into Jerusalem. It would not be a benign process, it would leave shards strewn from Gethsemane to Calvary. Judas would betray Jesus. Jesus would beg the Father to be spared. James and John would fail in their vigil. Men would flee, leaving dignity and clothes behind, in fear of their lives. Peter would deny he ever knew Jesus. The women who held him dear would watch him drag his own cross through the streets and die mocked among thieves.
“Let it be done according to Your will,” Jesus prayed, and then let himself be shattered, so that we might be freed to live, branches rooted in the vine, bearing fruit with wild abandon. Like Mary Magdalene in the garden, we want to cling to the joy we know, to what we can hold in our hands. But Easter has shattered these realities, beautiful as they are. There is no going back.
I want to launch into Easter, sweeping the shards of the Passion quickly away, burying the ashes of Lent under Easter lilies. But the cross remains on the altar, we will break the bread so that it can be shared. I’m trying to take time this Easter to contemplate the courage it takes to break apart something in order to make it whole, to stand in Easter’s glory, still able to see with clarity in both directions, able to stretch our our arms between heaven and earth, between what has been and what will be.
I regularly join the local Augustinian community for the Liturgy of the Hours. Their common prayer traditionally ends with, “ We worship you, Lord, we venerate your cross, we praise your resurrection. Through the cross you brought joy to the world.” I leave each morning reminded that Easter joy is inextricably woven into the brokenness of the cross. I’m reminded to steel myself to be broken open, to be brought ever deeper into Easter’s shattering realities.
Chris is right. It’s Easter today. It’s time to break the glass. There will be shards. And there will be beauty beyond my ability to hold. Inseparable realities.
Break the box and shed the nard;
Stop not now to count the cost;
Hither bring pearl, opal, sard;
Reck not what the poor have lost;
Upon Christ throw all away:
Know ye, this is Easter Day.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ