Experience of Easter

Growing up in a very orthodox, orthoprax LDS family in the 90s and 00s, I experienced Easter as a rather awkward holiday. We had no Easter bunny, Easter baskets, or anything else that would distract our focus from Jesus; our few activities (egg dyeing, egg hunt) were on Saturday, prefaced by how they were Not The Reason for Easter. 

And so broke Easter morning. We ate our colorful eggs reverently. We got ready for church, sometimes in new clothes (thanks to my mom), but usually not. When there were Easter programs at church, they often focused on Joseph Smith and the Restoration. After church, we stayed in church clothes (like every Sunday), watched church videos (like every Sunday) and got ready for a big dinner (like every Sunday). We’d eat ham instead of pot roast, on fancy china instead of Sunday dishes. We ate a spring-themed dessert (courtesy of my mom) and, for family scripture study, we paused wherever we were in the Standard Works to read the Easter story. 

Conceptually, Easter was A Big Deal – the holiest day of the year, as we reminded each other – our focus solemnly dedicated to “what Jesus did for us.” But that was both as far as it went and what we did every Sunday. So, in practice, Easter was just another Sunday, except with a little extra guilt, a different scripture story, and an extra fork and spoon at each place setting.

I’ve often heard people in my family and at church say “we don’t focus on the cross, we focus on the resurrection,” but I don’t believe that’s really true – if so, we wouldn’t feel so lost on Easter. I think we focus on Christmas – the holiness of God’s innocence and purity as a human child – and the Garden of Gethsemane, where we believe Jesus Christ took upon himself all of our pains, sicknesses and infirmities; where he lifted all of our burdens upon his own shoulders. When we pray for joy and peace, we invoke the baby in a manger. When we pray in suffering and distress, our pleas recall Christ praying in a garden.

A culture of strivers and perfectionists – my family and the church all – I think our narrative of the mortal experience largely toggles between the holy state of the innocent Christ child and the sacred path of the Sufferer in Gethsemane. As we strive to flee from sin, or avoid any appearance of evil throughout our lives, we cling to the innocence of the baby in the manger. We fear the loss of that innocence may be irreparable, like a wooden beam where, after repentance pulls the nail of sin out through Christ’s Atonement, the hole remains, and you can never be as pure as you were before. 

When the dark and dreary world besets us, we say we pass through “our own Gethsemane.” Our hope is in the Son of God who, in his own Gethsemane, took upon himself our pains, afflictions, sufferings and infirmities of every kind. We might pray to be restored to the peace of childlike innocence. After that, unless our suffering is caused by death, we don’t have much use for the cross, and Easter morning is kind of a given. How could a being as pure and innocent as the Christ child not resurrect and ascend up to heaven as an adult? Of course He did.

Funnily enough, as I was preparing to write this, I started to wonder if there was a scripture that said something to the effect of “blessed are those who repent, but still more blessed are those who have no need of repentance” – something to evoke the innocent, unburdened-with-the-struggles-of-this-world Christ child as our exemplar. But there aren’t any. In fact, just the opposite. In words attributed to Jesus Christ himself: verily I say unto you, that there shall be more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine which need no repentance (Luke 15:7)

So God rejoices in our experiences. God rejoices when the wooden beams of our lives are full of empty holes. Firm in the knowledge that if scars from those nails remain, we are in good company with Him. As in a quote often attributed to Marjorie Pay Hinckley, but apparently written as a parting testimony by Nadine Miner Hobby, a divorced single mother prior to her death from cancer, 

“I don’t want to drive up to the Pearly Gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautifuly [sic] tailored clothes, wiht [sic] my hair expertly coiffed and with long, perfectly manicured nails. I want to drive up to the Pearly Gates in a station wagon that has Boy Scout equipment in the back seat. I want there to be grass stains on my shoes from mowing Sister Schenk’s lawn. I want there to be a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbor’s children. I want there to be a little dirt under my fingernails from helping 4-Hers plant a garden. I want there to be children’s sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of a friend on my shoulder. I want the Lord to know I was really here, and that I really lived.”

Up until the end of His experience in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ could presumably have walked away. He knew Judas was coming, he could have hidden and lived to preach another day. At that point, Jesus Christ faced a reckoning poignantly voiced by Frodo Baggins at the end of his epic journey: “How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back?”

Once Jesus stood in the Garden of Gethsemane, woke the disciples, and received the man who greeted him with a kiss, there was no going back. No return to the innocence and purity of the baby in a manger. No going back to the way things were before, when his mother Mary fed and sheltered him, when his simple job was to exist, innocent and divine. Now his challenge was to persist in his divine nature, wrested from all innocence, as nail after nail pounded into wooden beams by way of his flesh. 

In the church, we tie a lot of things back to Adam and Eve, and I think we can do that here. If toggling between Gethsemane’s hardships and the manger’s innocence had been the vision underlying Eve’s choice, she and Adam would have staunchly stayed in the Garden of Eden each time they were tempted. They would have importuned God to make an Eden for each spirit child in which we could make the same choice, constantly rejecting the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil — rejecting experience to persist in innocence. 

But, as she said in Moses 5:11, were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption. Similarly, Abraham rejoiced to see [Jesus’] day (John 8:56), as he said to Isaac, my son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering (Genesis 8:22). 

Was it Gethsemane in which Abraham prophesied God would “provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering?”

Was it a manger Eve described as “the joy of our redemption?”

How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back?

As hard as it is in a culture of perfectionism and scrupulosity, sometimes there is no going back. We can’t un-experience our experiences. If we ever could escape Gethsemane and return to the innocence of a baby (dubious in itself), none of us can flee our roads to Calvary. 

So… if we all experience not just Gethsemane but Calvary, if experience and suffering and death are inevitable no matter how innocent we are or how obedient we try to be, isn’t hope lost, the world dark and gloomy?

Without Jesus, yes! That is the point – that is the miracle of Easter! 

On the road to Calvary, without a Savior, hope is lost. When, like Eve and Jesus deciding to leave their gardens, we accept experience, even perfect obedience results in a loss of innocence, suffering and pain. There is no justice, there is no peace. There are only nails pounding into the wooden beams of our lives whose holes, no matter how much we want them to, can never be removed, and whose culmination is death. 

And so broke Easter morning.

In birth, Jesus manifested the holiness of innocence; in resurrection, Jesus embodied the holiness of experience. He sealed the triumph of life over death, of beauty over ashes, of hope over despair, of peace over chaos by transforming experience – not innocence – into a place of life, beauty, hope and peace. He called that place His kingdom and He invites us to live with him there. 

It was by the healed and sanctified scars from the nails in Jesus’ hands and feet that his disciples knew him; it is by the scars from nails in our own lives – the ones we pounded and the ones we didn’t – that we know ourselves. Because of Easter, the scars of our experience can become healed and sanctified like Jesus’. Because of Easter, holiness lies not only in the manger-like innocence of our past and the Gethsemane-like experiences of our present, but also in the Resurrection’s transformative promise of our future.


  1. Carolyn says:

    This is lovely. My Husband remarked today — during an Easter Service that was the biggest effort I’ve ever seen a ward make towards being a real Easter service – that it nonetheless felt like a Good Friday service. We don’t know how to do pure merciful joy. It was all Gethsemane and mourning.

  2. I feel that, Carolyn. My current ward also had the most on-topic, uplifting Easter program I’ve seen — which they accomplished by assigning the 9 year old primary class to be the majority of the speakers sharing their testimonies of Jesus :-)

  3. We don’t “focus” on the resurrection in the sense of talking over and over about the the specific event of tomb being empty, Mary seeing him etc. Although that’s obviously talked about.

    We focus on the resurrected Christ as a matter of fact. He lives, he leads this Church, has a resurrected body of flesh and bone, etc.

  4. Lulee Anna says:

    I am a teacher and have had the privilege of teaching at both Catholic and Jewish schools. I love the Holy Week activities that were happening at my Catholic schools. It gave me a new perspective on Easter that I did not have growing up LDS. Combining LDS and Catholic doctrine has given me a more joyful view of the resurrection.

  5. Laura, lovely. In our home we also had similar practices as in yours when our children were young. This Easter was different for me, mostly because of my reflections on Holy Week. I’ve tried this before — to synchronize my study and pondering with the events of each day — but this year I let go of the chronology and focused on individual lessons, applications, impressions and (dare I say it) personal revelation about what Easter means to me. And it was meaningful. And it gave meaning to the testimonies I heard in our Easter sacrament meeting and to the music we shared with one another. And in personal conversations I had with my own children during the day. At least part of my ability to do this is that I have lived as you’ve describe, a life with my own scars and nails, something I had perhaps not understood when I was younger.

  6. I tried to get my family to focus on the Resurrection this year. Not the crucification or the events leading up to it. We watched the churches Bible Videos that covered from Christ being buried to Doubting Thomas.

    We do the pegan egg hunting the day before Easter.

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