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Alleluia, He Ain’t In There

Alleluia, He Ain’t In There

by Carrie Willard


I love Easter. I am the Buddy the Elf of Easter. Easter is my favorite. I can’t help myself from humming “Welcome Happy Morning!” throughout the year, and a good portion of my brain space is dedicated to which of my kids will wear which seersucker and bow tie combination each year.

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My enthusiasm for Easter wasn’t borne out of anything in particular, but rather it grew gradually over the years. My childhood Easters were probably like a lot of American Christian households in the ’80s. Plastic pastel basket, plastic green grass, dyeing eggs, and pawning the black jelly beans off on my dad. I grew up in the cold prairie of the Upper Midwest, and so my wardrobe usually included at least one white cardigan sweater to wear over my Easter dress, and sometimes it snowed.


When I was a teenager, my parents still continued the Easter basket tradition, sometimes with something meaningful to me and my siblings as soon-to-be-adults. One year, for example, after discovering that my beloved VHS copy of Fiddler on the Roof had been played so many times that it had warped, my mom surprised me with a new copy. (Let’s just agree to look past the fact that my parents thought that a movie about a Jewish pogrom was appropriate for Easter, and the fact that I’m old enough to be receiving VHS tapes as a teenager.) It was probably around that time that springtime took on a special significance, too, when I started to pay attention to how the long Wisconsin winters affected my mood and my outlook on life. Easter felt like a fresh start, and a new beginning.


As a young adult, and then as a new parent, I can’t say that I had given Easter much thought. Our oldest son was born in late January, and his first few weeks were so filled with overwhelming love and exhaustion that I didn’t really pause to think about his first Easter until it was almost Holy Week. Then, when he was about six weeks old, my husband’s beloved Daddy died, and was buried on Good Friday. If I had lacked for serious reflection about life, death, and resurrection before then, I had plenty of time to reflect as I nursed an infant in a funeral home. I remember taking my mother-in-law’s car to Target to pick up diapers and other supplies, and dropping some chocolate Easter eggs into the cart. The baby was far too young to enjoy them, but the rest of us needed a little pick-me-up. The little pastel foil wrappers piled up as we took turns rocking the sweet bundle of squishy, sleepy newborn.


After the funeral, we went home to an incredibly powerful Easter vigil service at the church where my husband served as Rector. I sat in the darkened hallway with the baby and heard the chilling strains of “O Mary Don’t You Weep” as the lights were gradually erased the darkness in the church.


He is Risen.


Holy buckets.


I’m a jaded lawyer approaching middle age. I shouldn’t be so surprised by something that I’ve known my whole life, but I am. My priest friend from South Texas summed it up last year when he wrote on Facebook: “Alleluia, He ain’t in there.”  It is strikingly wonderful, often uncomfortably so. Empty tombs and stigmata – it’s no wonder we had to come up with some fuzzy bunnies and chicks to soften the whole deal.


In his piece “Happy Crossmas: How Easter Stubbornly Resists Commercialism, James Martin writes that “it’s hard to make a palatable consumerist holiday out of Easter when its back story is, at least in part, so gruesome. Christmas is cuddly. Easter, despite the bunnies, is not.” It’s a hot mess of a story, especially for children. Just as they’re learning about death and dying, we wallop them with the one exception to the rule: He came back to life! But sorry, your goldfish is still very much dead, so please stop touching it. Let’s go dye some eggs that you won’t eat!


It’s complicated, and even though I think we give our children far less credit than they deserve for digesting complicated concepts, I can’t fault them for their confusion or ambivalence about Easter. I just want them to learn to share my excitement about it. It’s a Big Deal, in the Biggest Deal kind of way, and I don’t want it to take a back seat to Christmas at our house.


And so, as our family grew and our children have grown up, I’ve wanted them to have that striking, shocking, deliciously wonderful feeling of a Really Special Holiday, not just on Christmas, but on Easter, too. My husband and I treat our children to some special gifts at Easter, which is probably not the norm. I’ve heard people rail against excessive gift-giving at Easter, claiming that it’s “becoming another Christmas!” In my world, it should be at least as big as Christmas … and maybe more so.


We don’t go all-out on Christmas, which gives me a little wiggle room in the family budget (and also in the parental-obsessing-about-too many-gifts department) to indulge a little bit at Easter. Is gift-giving the best way to shine a little bit of the holiday spotlight on Easter? (Maybe?) Isn’t all of Christianity about giving up what we have instead of receiving more? (Bear with me.)


Eastertide has marked some big changes in our family – the birth of our youngest son in 2011, and a few years later, announcing our move to another state. Some of the gifts my children have received in those years are still important today. When his baby brother was born, our older son received some wooden trains in his Easter basket, and those trains feature large in our family photos with a newborn that year. In 2014, both boys received stuffed elephants, modeled after a character in a children’s book series. Those colorful elephants are in a lot of our photos of our interstate move later that year.


Last but not least, I ask a lot of my kids during Holy Week. It is a huge commitment for a clergy family, and one they did not choose. They are incredibly good sports, complaints about what they wear notwithstanding, and I feel like they have earned it. Not that gifts are earned or deserved – gifts, like grace and the resurrection, are free and have no strings attached. Sometimes those free gifts look like a few LEGO sets at the end of a long week to celebrate the biggest, weirdest, holiest surprise of our faith, and I’m OK with that.




He is Risen.


And it’s a Big Deal


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Arlene Price

The Lord is risen indeed! Thanks, Rowan and Carrie, for putting those words into action and sharing how that fact is/can be manifested in family life today.

Shelley Marmon

Wonderfully said! As a lifelong Texan, I love the “he ain’t there” and add to it “BRB”–as in “Be Right Back.”

KariAnn Lessner

Thank you, Carrie, for casting a bit of grace toward mommas who work in the church! I needed your words today. #stillhummingwelcomehappymorning

Suzanne Brooks

Brava, Carrie!

Allison Willard

I was beginning to be a little disgusted at the more recent excess commercialization of Easter, but this piece fine-tuned my perspective a bit. Yes, it’s a big deal. It should be the grandest holiday of all for us, however that needs to happen to demonstrate its significance. Well done. (From one Willard to another!)

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