Today was the Blessing of the Easter Baskets at church, the third year in a row we've had this really lovely tradition. It is Slavic in origin, and since Father is of Polish descent, he brought this tradition to the congregation, which is largely composed of Catholics of Irish, German and Italian descent. I wrote about it last year, too; this year, we weren't surprised to see many of the same people we saw then, lugging their heavy baskets up the long walk to the church's front door, into the narthex, into the church itself, and down the long aisle.
Being that it is Holy Saturday, the Blessed Sacrament was not present in the tabernacle. It feels very strange in there without Him. The emptiness seems immeasurable, kind of like when you move from one house to another: The old house still has some of your belongings in it -- a couch, some chairs, the refrigerator and stove -- but it still seems as if the heart of the home has moved on somewhere else.
Considering how strange it feels to be without the Presence of Jesus in the church, imagine how it must have felt to the disciples all those many years ago as they were hiding, their faith at its lowest ebb, wondering if any minute they were going to be arrested.
Anyway, here's what our Easter basket contained this year:
Wine -- Red wine symbolizes the blood of Christ, spilled to cover our sins
Bread -- Last year we bought hot cross buns from Panera for our basket which were delicious but expensive, and the year before that, I made a traditional egg-and-dried fruit bread that no one would eat. So this year, I employed the trusty bread machine (on the dough setting) to make a nice, rich bread put together with eggs and milk to make it richer. I didn't braid it or shape it like a cross or anything; my talents don't go in that direction. I just put it in a regular bread pan and baked it that way. The bread reminds us that Christ is our True Bread.
Salt -- Salt is a condiment, much prized throughout the world when Christians first started assembling Easter baskets, and it reminds us of our duty to flavor the world and make it better by our presence.
Eggs -- The Eastern Europeans traditionally gave up dairy products and meat for the duration of Lent, so eggs were abundant at Easter when the long fast was over. The girls colored a dozen eggs this morning, and it was the first time that they sat swirling the eggs around in the Pass dyes while listening to rock music -- what a juxtaposition! The rocker was David Cook, that handsome sweetheart from American Idol last year, and I kind of secretly like him, too, so it was all good. Eggs have been used for centuries to help people understand the concept of the Holy Trinity because they are three -- shell, white, yolk -- contained in one.
Cheese -- We bought some cream cheese which I unmolded from the container and then pressed dried cranberries into in the shape of a cross. It looked very nice. The purpose of the cheese is to provide a food that is bland yet sweet, and is intended to remind Christians that we are to be moderate in all things, but that is hard when you haven't eaten candy for soooo looooong. We will be moderate on Monday, perhaps.
Butter -- Since the Slavic people gave up all dairy products for Lent, butter also figured largely in their Easter celebrations. It was included because of its richness, which makes sense. Why do you think those vendors at the Indiana State Fair dip their roasted ears of corn in to melted butter before they hand them over to you? Butter makes everything better, and I didn't need the Indiana Dairy Council or even the Roman Catholic Church to tell me that.
Candle - The candle symbolizes Jesus as the Light of the world. This year, we bought a short, white pillar candle and placed it on my pretty pressed glass candle plate beside the basket.
Bacon -- Traditionally, of course, the meat in an Easter basket is ham, but kielbasa and bacon can also be used. Frankly, we couldn't afford a ham this year. The pork symbolizes our freedom from the Law of Moses, which forbids the eating of pork. Jesus didn't come to abolish the Law; He came to fulfill it, and it that fulfillment, as St. Peter's dream teaches us in Acts 10:11-17, we are no longer bound by those strictures. We are free to eat. And since we are free, we are going to come home from the Easter Vigil Mass this year and have bacon sandwiches on that good bread!
We really love this tradition and look forward to it every year as one of the highlights of Lent. It might just seem like a lot of trouble, putting all these things in a basket and lugging them to the church, but when you're sitting there looking at your pretty basket while Father says a series of really beautiful prayers over it, you truly realize how meaningful it is. It's also fun afterwards seeing what everyone else brought in their baskets.
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