We usually go to Wayne County, Kentucky for Memorial Day because it always falls near my mother-in-law’s birthday. That means we usually go around to cemeteries to decorate the grave markers of some of Connie’s kin, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, and her two older sisters who both died in infancy.
Taylor’s Grove and Pleasant Hill Cemeteries are located in Hidalgo and Sunnybrook, Kentucky, respectively. They’re not near anything in particular, although I think Hidalgo is a suburb of Windy. You can’t get to Taylor’s Grove Baptist Church and its cemetery without going through Hidalgo, and you can’t get to Hidalgo without going through Windy. Our Memorial Day decoration pilgrimage thus takes us down the same roads every year. You take the state highway out of Monticello toward Albany, then turn off at the signpost, then look for the landmarks Granny knows as clearly as she knows her own name and points out to you as you drive and try to keep from getting carsick on those twisting one-lane roads. Finally you leave the paved road, turn onto the gravel, and eventually find a parking place on the grass as close to the cemetery as you can.
You can’t rush this “Decoration Day” ritual. Like the stations of the cross, you have to take each step in turn because that is the only way to get where you’re going. Yes, I suppose you could hire a helicopter to airlift you there, but part of the meaning of the ritual, at least for me–the newcomer–is found in the ride and the stories. “Darrell, that’s the house where we lived when Connie was born.” “Otto and I used to walk up this hillside to go to church before we were married.” “I wonder whatever happened to the family that lived in that house.” It doesn’t matter that the stories don’t change very much from year to year. That never matters when the story intersects with your life.
Holy Week is sort of like Memorial Day in Wayne County. Just replace Monticello, Windy, Hidalgo, and Taylor’s Grove with Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. You have to take each day in turn because that is the only way to get where you’re going.
And no, not everybody understands the importance of this journey and thus they try to rush things, airlifting themselves directly to Easter without letting the process unfold naturally and in its own time. We prefer the triumph of Easter to the agony of the garden, the betrayal, the trials, and the cross. But do we really understand Easter if we rush through the days that come before as if they were mere preliminaries? The truth is, we need to walk with Jesus all the way to the cross before we can really grasp the message of his resurrection. Otherwise it’s like skipping to the happy ending of a story without troubling ourselves with all the grit and conflict and pain that give the ending meaning.
But it is in the spiritual struggle that the story of Easter most closely intersects with human life. That is where we see ourselves: faithful yet fickle, betrayers and betrayed, accusers and accused, crying out with feelings of abandonment and weighed down with the weight of our sins. If we miss these things, Easter is just the punchline to a joke we don’t get. But if we determine to look for each landmark in turn without skipping steps or getting them out of sequence, we may be surprised on Easter morning to find that the resurrection power is a part of our story as well.
Palm Sunday. Maundy Thursday. Good Friday. Holy Saturday. Easter.
There’s no other way to get there.