Another Easter ritual

sugar bush
Sitting down to a leisurely morning breakfast of pancakes and maple syrup, presuming some of us have leisurely mornings once in awhile, doesn’t necessarily put us in mind of Easter. But it does for me.

Growing up on a farm with an adjacent woods of several hundred sugar maple trees, the task of tapping trees, gathering sap and boiling it down to make syrup has always been something I associate with another highlight of spring, the rituals of Easter.

Both involve fire — it’s what serves to boil the sap and from which the Easter candle is ignited; water — a slightly sweet variation creates the syrup and, ritually at least, it’s water that creates new Christians; and sweet aromas — the steam that wafts up from the roiling sap is subtle but distinct, something that recreates memories when you smell it, not unlike the pungent aroma of sacred chrism or the incense that accompanies proclamation of the Easter gospel.

Just as importantly there was a communal dimension to making syrup on our farm that is significant in our celebration of Easter. It would have been impossible for my dad to make a few thousands gallons of syrup without a passel of cousins — first, second, third, it was easy to lose track; neighbors; and curious visitors often lacking in footwear sufficient for the muddy work of gathering sap in five-gallon buckets. My grandpa was a fixture in our tradition, in later years confined to testing the syrup — clearly no small task — and making a daily walk into the woods well into his late 80s. One of my favorite pictures is a close-up of him measuring the viscosity of the syrup on an old-timey instrument curiously as accurate as the devises possessing great scientific credibility.

Certainly a community is a significant dimension of our Easter celebration. Could you imagine celebrating Easter alone! Even the women didn’t wander like outcasts into the darkness, they ran off to share their story, to be with others. There’s joy in gathering with people we know, the people with whom we share the post-resurrection challenge of discipleship, as well as strangers and casual acquaintances intrigued by what all our Easter feasting entails.

Community has been a rather fundamental element of Easter since that very first night when the disciples gathered, not unlike my dad, brother, a stray neighbor or two and me waiting for the sap to boil into syrup, wondering how long it would take and waiting to see how sweet it would taste. Those uncertain but faithful few had far greater worries and wonders: what would become of them, what more could be demanded of them, how could anything good come from this?

And yet it would, and they would find the wherewithal to leave that Upper Room and be who the Risen Lord imagined, knew, they could be. As it is for us — inspired in some way by the life and rituals of the season to become again, or maybe for the first time, who Jesus imagines, knows, we can be.  TL



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