I’ve been looking forward to Easter this year. For weeks I’ve thought about it, mentally preparing for a spectacular day. This year I just know Easter will be special.
I carpool to church with a friend. Early in March or late February, we chatted about Easter plans. The question came up, What did you do last year?
I did nothing. Well, nothing Eastery. The fact that it was Easter was just a vague part of the day.
Easter fell during my college’s Spring Break and I wanted to see family. I figured a train ticket was cheaper than a flight, so I bought round-trip tickets to Ohio to spend Spring Break week with my brother, sister-in-law, and nieces.
But there was one problem. It was a long ride. I left South Carolina on Saturday close to 10 pm and rode all night to DC. In the Capitol, I had a 6 hr layover. And then almost all night to Ohio, arriving early Monday morning at 3 am.
Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday spent in the nation’s capital.
I’ll admit I had a romantic notion of cross-country train travel. Easter in the Capitol? It sounded amazing. But the trip was far from romantic.
First, I had a very loaded suitcase I was hauling around. (It must have been at least 40 lbs. I way overpacked) My suitcase at my feet, a stuffed backpack on my lap. And since I wanted to have a good grip on my environment, I left my contacts in the entire trip. I discovered what bleary-eyed truly meant.
I dozed, and woke at every train stop. Charlotte, Roanoke, Lynchburg, Arlington. As dawn rose in the Virginia Mountains, the guy sitting next to me called someone in New York. He talked non-stop for the next 5 hours.
Union Station is chaotic. And I hadn’t slept that well. So Palm Sunday I dragged my bag around the station, unsure whether this trip was a bad idea or not.
McDonalds at Union Station. While I stood in line, I turned down at least 5 different people who asked for money. And I ordered a McGriddle and sat at a booth.
I opened my phone, scanning Facebook.
Then this homeless fellow sat at my bench. What do you want? I tried to be polite, but this was creepy.
I could not understand what the guy wanted. He mumbled something about a phone charger, but my booth didn’t have a plug. I indicated I would leave, and he asked me to stay.
I was going to leave and get out of Union Station. But it’s Sunday, I should be in Church. I couldn’t just leave. I asked the guy if he went to church, and his response was mixed. After telling him I was leaving, I said, “Let me pray for you.”
And then I packed all the Gospel things I could think of in my prayer. “Thank you for dying on the Cross for our sins, and coming back alive again.”
Then I grabbed my suitcase and darted away. As much as you can dart with a bag that heavy.
I stood right inside the doors of Union Station, watching the taxis, and all the people asking for money. I called my brother, his voice grounded me somewhat. Then I plowed through the doors, practically running across the street.
The Smithsonian Postal Service Museum. It was free and warm. And safe. 🙂
I spent an hour wondering the museum. Then I checked my phone. It was a seven minute walk to the National Archives. I was going to see the Declaration of Independence.
The Capitol was quiet. It was 38 degrees, windy and misting. The streets were practically empty, I passed a jogger or two.
There were only a few visitors at the National Archives. I gazed at one of the last copies of the Magna Carta, I practically had the whole room to myself. I spent a few minutes hovering over the Declaration, searching for my favorite Signers among the signatures.
Then I walked towards the Capitol, stepping though the Capitol grounds. I can’t repeat enough how empty the place was. It was so cold, and there was no-one out. No one but the guards.
I stayed up all night on the ride to Ohio. And as I stoop in line waiting to disembark, I turned around wondering what the person behind me was doing. Next to the line were shelves, passengers could place their luggage here rather than cart their suitcases up the stairs. The women behind was unzipping bags, rifling though luggage. I rubbed at my red eyes. “What are you doing?””
She jumped back, giving me a too wide smile.
Well, I wouldn’t ever think of leaving my suitcase down here.
The week with my brother and family was sublime. I spent the days goofing off with my nieces, evenings eating real food and solving the worlds problems with my brother. I bought a complete set of Shakespeare’s works, and ended the week watching Apollo 13.
But I was vaguely worried. On Saturday, I’d have to board a train again and retrace my steps. The first time around, I had no knowledge of what the trip would be like. But for the return trip I was all too familiar with what I’d be facing.
But I had bought the ticket. So Saturday, I reboarded a train. This time, my seat was right next to the cabin entrance. Every half hour, passengers walked right past me, embarking or boarding. I pulled a hat down over my eyes, my arms wrapped around my backpack, suitcase underneath my feet.
The train pulls it’s way though mountainous OH and PA. There’s no internet, despite Amtrack’s advertisement of wifi. My phone doesn’t have data in those mountains. I fought for sleep.
But as dawn climbed over the mountains, and our train pulled past Pittsburgh, I could not sleep.
And as we passed into Maryland, my phone picked up data once more. I checked Facebook, and saw Easter greetings.
“He is risen, He is risen indeed!”
“Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulcher…and they found the stone rolled away…
Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.”
The lady sitting next to me stirred. She pulled the hat away from her face, murmuring a good morning.
“Good morning,” my reply was instantaneous, “Happy Easter.”
“Is it Easter?” She pulled her bags together, “I’m going to the dining car.”
So she left. And I sat alone on a train, gazing at the Maryland farms. Spring had barely reached this part of the country. The trees were bare, the grass just beginning to truly turn green.
I missed the Church. Had I ever truly longed to be with fellow believers before on a Sunday?
My friends posted posted songs on Facebook. I ached to sing them with someone, anyone.
Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth, reply, Alleluia!
The train passed through DC suburbs. I loved seeing life like this, the children riding bikes alongside the tracks. People walking outside their apartments. A park, families were flying kites. Then the train disappeared underground.
“Next stop, Union Station!”
I read the Easter passage, sitting on a train. I posted something Eastery on FB. And while the entire experience was horrible, and one I wish to never repeat, I’m grateful for that ill-fated trip.
Because this Palm Sunday, I stood with my fellow church members. We read the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry. And we praised together. Together we said, “Blessed is the King that comes in the Name of the Lord.”
I can whisper those words on a train. Or I can shout them with fellow believers.
I can pick through Union Station, skittish of strangers.
Or I can join my fellow worshippers and pick up Palm Branches to throw at Jesus’ feet.
I wanted to compare every moment of worship this Sunday with my dull experience last year.
The Dull experience of a deserted Capitol Hill. Of an entire Smithsonian museum empty of people. Of a train of strangers, of a moment alone gazing at centuries old historical writing.
Dull moments alone.
Dull earthly moments alone.
Nothing compares to worship. Worship this Easter. Worship with people.
Pick up palm branches and open your hearts to the King of Glory.
Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion, Shout, O Daughters of Jerusalem:
Behold your King comes unto you: He is Just and having Salvation;
lowly and riding upon a donkey, and upon a colt the foal of a donkey.
….They cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon. And as He went, they spread their clothes in the way.
And when He was come nigh, even now at the descent of the Mouth of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen.
Saying, Blessed be the King that comes in the Name of the Lord; peace in heaven, and glory in the Highest.”
Zechariah 9:9 & Luke 19:35-38