I am a dog who goes to church at Easter. I go at other times too. But Easter is special.
Some dogs have jobs to do. Like sniffer dogs at airports. Or farm dogs. Or dogs that find people. Or dogs that detect cancer. They are pretty smart. I too have a job.
My job is befriending people. Which I’m enthusiastic about. Sometimes a bit much so.
I am, though, learning what humans need. Especially children.
Easter begins on the Sunday before. That is when the palms come out. Big palm and flax leaves, and little crosses made from them.
It is also often the time when people who are going away for the four-day Easter weekend come to church. If I get close, I give them a wag, a sniff, and a lick. A blessing if you like.
There is always music in church. People singing together. I use to try to join in but I got “that look” from the person on the end of my leash.
Some of the songs sung, particularly at Easter, are really old songs that everyone knows. They are the ones that are sung loudly, even if the words no longer make sense. Singing, like friendship, is good for the soul.
The next Easter service is on Thursday night. Going to church at night doesn’t happen very often. On that night a few people gather to wash each other’s feet, have a meal together, sing a little, pray a little, and then collect up pretty much anything they can carry and take it out of the church.
I offered to help with that last bit – me being a retriever and all – but my offer was politely declined.
Then it’s Friday. I tell you, there is a lot of church this week.
This Friday service is one where I have to be very quiet. People dress in black and don’t talk very much. There is plenty of music at my church that day – organ, cello, clarinet, choir, hymns – all of which is sombre. There’s not even food and chatting after the service. People go home immediately afterwards.
A word about food. Church people nearly always have food. There are cakes, there’s sausages, there’s biscuits, there’s bread. Nearly always after the service. This is the best part of coming to church if you have got any labrador genes.
Some churches have a service on Saturday at midnight. Fire and candles and smoke and all. I haven’t been to one of those yet.
Then it’s Sunday again. The big one. Easter day. There are flowers, lots. There are bright colours everywhere. People are smiling.
The church looks so different from Friday. Lots of folk come. Children and grandchildren too. There’s happy singing. And there’s Easter eggs.
Easter eggs, being made of chocolate, are not good for dogs and, luckily, most people know that. But I’ve been given a piece of hot-cross bun in the past. They are kind of a muffin with a cross design on top. Meant to be eaten on the Friday but nowadays people eat them pretty much any time.
Like I said, most of the food eating happens after the service. Although sometimes there is an Easter egg hunt during the service. I sure could help out with that one but, you know, rules are rules, and being sick is no fun.
As for what Easter is all about, I judge it, as we canines do, by mood. Easter seems to be about being happy and helping others be happy. Happy after being sad.
It seems to be about beautiful flowers and bright colours. Beauty and brightness after sorrow and loss.
It seems to be about coming together, friendship. After a time of being pulled apart, of loneliness.
In this Sunday-to-Sunday week, Christians remember things that happened that were sad and worse. And they remember things that made them glad and better. Loss and joy. Despair and hope. Loneliness and friendship.
And they commit themselves to making more joy, hope, and friendship. All the things that feed the soul.
My job, as I said, is to befriend people. Teach them a thing or two about friendship. Nurturing the soul – that which is sacred in us all.
- Finn the red golden retriever, c/o Revd Glynn Cardy, Minister of St Luke’s Presbyterian Church, Remuera.