Two Easters, Far From Home

For a few decades there, I wasn’t much of a churcher. However, on two Easter Sundays during that time, I found myself at churches that were a long way—both geographically and ideologically—from home, and they were probably my most memorable Easters ever.

Easter 1987

It was Jean’s and my first Easter together as husband and wife, and we traveled to Provincetown, Mass., to visit my brother Jim. April is decidedly off-season in Provincetown; it was cloudy, misty and cool the whole time we were there—not to mention completely deserted compared to the other times I’d visited.

This sign on the bench outside the Universalist Meeting House reads: “From all that dwell below the skies, let faith and hope and love arise. Let peace, goodwill and truth be sung, through every land, by every tongue.”

Jim attended the Universalist Meeting House in Provincetown. In a way it’s a church, but for two people raised in Christian families, it was a vastly different experience, and for me, at least, a refreshing change from every other Easter service I’d attended. It was all  very casual. I don’t remember a whole lot of details about it, except that the minister, in her sermon (they probably didn’t use the words “minister” and “sermon,” or maybe even “service,” but those terms will have to do here) talked a little about the Rev. Oral Roberts, who had recently claimed to see a 50-foot-tall Jesus. She gently mocked him for that, as part of her larger point that we don’t really need spectacular displays like that to be good people. Was that her point? In the haze of the intervening 25 years, I can’t remember for sure, but that’s pretty much what I remember taking from it. Anyway, it was a fun, celebratory service, and when I walked out I felt like I was among a hundred or so new friends.

For Jean, though, the Universalist Unitarians didn’t really fuflill all of her Easter needs. So later that afternoon we went to Mass at a Catholic church in town. (Church twice in one day! It still stands as my personal record!)  Although the Mass was in English, it seemed like most of the other people in the pews were members of Provincetown’s Portuguese community. Now, I will admit that the Catholic church has some beautiful traditions, but this mass was one of the most soporific, lifeless Masses I’ve ever attended, and even more so in contrast to the festive service the Unitarians had put on earlier that day.

These pictures of the Universalist Meeting House are not, unfortunately, from that 1987 trip. I do have one picture of Jim taken during that visit, so I know I had a camera there, but I can’t find any more from that roll. These pictures were taken when I visited P-town in September 2010.

Easter 2005

This time when Easter rolled around, we were halfway around the world in Prague, Czech Republic. “We” refers to Jean and me and Jim, but it was our son Jim, not my brother Jim. We were in Prague with Jim’s high school band, which took a week-long trip to the Czech Republic during spring break that year. The trip happened to coincide with Easter, and the band leaders organized a trip to St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague Castle for Easter Mass, for those who wanted to.

I definitely wanted to. Even though I don’t always go along with all the doctrine, I love going into old churches to check out the architecture. And this one definitely qualifies as “old.” It was built beginning in the14th century, although it wasn’t completed for 600 years.

The enormous gothic-style cathedral is part of Prague Castle, which is also the home of the seat of the Czech government. The cathedral itself is amazing; long, narrow, and incredibly tall; I don’t know how high the ceiling is, but you can get an idea from the pictures here. (The “tallness” of the place is reflected in the fact that, as I look at these pictures seven years later, I notice that almost all of them are verticals.)

We arrived in Prague on Good Friday, and the cathedral was actually one of the first places we visited. After that, we walked down the hill to Old Town, and as we were crossing the Charles Bridge, we saw a procession coming the opposite direction: it was a re-enactment of Jesus’ last day, with Jesus, Roman soldiers, and the lot. Now, everything is strange when you’re jet-lagged as you visit a foreign country for the first time, but seeing that just added one more surreal note to the day.

On Easter morning, I guess we were a little late arriving, because we ended up sitting way in the back of St. Vitus’. Prague’s bishop is a Cardinal, and he said the Easter Mass, in Czech, of course. The sound wasn’t great, and the place was cold, but the experience was well worth it.

Here’s a gallery with these pictures and a few more: clicking on any of the thumbnails below should bring up the gallery view. Happy Easter!

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