This weekend one of the holiest of all childhood rituals will take place in full view of the sun and over-protective parents.
The egg hunt.
Depending upon your tradition, the scene may vary a bit, but essentially the components remain the same: multi-colored eggs (mostly plastic, but there are always a few staunch traditionalists who dye their own hard-boiled eggs), baskets of various shapes and sizes (including the occasional 5-gallon bucket), children dressed in hues from a pastel rainbow, and lots and lots of misdirected aggression.
Normally the hunt is held outside, in some bucolic setting, where the grass sways gently in the early Spring breeze and the sun glitters peacefully off a nearby lake or stream. There will be tables that hold refreshments of some sort, and chances are, in an apparent attempt at humor or a simply a statement of their lack of awareness, someone will have brought about 40 dozen devilled eggs for folks to snack upon. Perhaps some lawn chairs are strewn about as well, and seemingly happy adults will stand about, pink or robin's egg blue Solo cups in hand, while their children run happily through the grass awaiting the beginning of the hunt.
And, thanks to the pollen and allergies, the day will somehow seem slightly hazy and out of focus, as if in a movie.
But once the children are gathered, and the adult in charge of the hunt has laid out the rules, the entire affair takes on the gravity of The Hunger Games.
If you've ever been to a children's egg hunt, you know what I'm talking about. There will inevitably be the one kid who scoots around snatching up eggs as if somehow genetically engineered to dominate the hunt; the one kid who moves at glacial speed and simply can't get the egg-to-basket transfer down; the kid who stops in the middle of the scrum to examine a caterpillar or a pretty dandelion; and everyone's least favorite, the child who intentionally bumps into the smaller children so as to knock eggs from their baskets, and then scoop the fallen eggs into his own.
And that's just the kids. If you watch closely, you can also spot the overly competitive parent who somehow views his or her child's ability to scramble for tiny plastic bulbs as a commentary on that child's evolutionary fitness. Or the mother who doesn't want her children to feel bad about finding fewer eggs than everyone else, so she'll hip check other children away from an egg while frantically signaling her own child to come and retrieve the precious. Or the dad who takes it upon himself to police everyone else's children while his own picks more pockets than Fagin's entire clan of orphan robbers.
Things usually go smoothly until one of the aforementioned kids crosses another kid, or one of the adults crosses another adult, or some strange mixture of the two. And Lord help us if two parents happen to get into it over their own "angel" being accused of treating the other "angel" poorly during the hunt. When that happens, you might as well dial 9-1-1, simply say the words "Egg hunt" and the physical address, and hang up. Within 5 minutes the S.W.A.T. team will arrive in full gear and handle things from there.
And the sad part is, they'll be needed. It's just how we get down in the South.
Regardless, many people will expose their children to this grand tradition on Saturday or Sunday, and we'll tell ourselves that one day we'll look back on the blood and stitches and arrest records and laugh ourselves silly. We'll tell ourselves the the egg hunt doesn't hurt anything, that it's all in good fun, and that at least we're teaching our kids something about the meaning of Easter, because, ostensibly, all of this vicious fighting and scavenging is meant to remind us of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I'm not exactly sure how, unless it's weighted more towards the suffering and death part.
(Though it is entirely possible that getting to eat two pieces of candy in the safety of the emergency room could somehow remind us of the resurrection. I don't know.)
Or, if it's meant to reflect the gracelessness with which we sometimes handle sharing our faith. In that case, if the hunt is intended to be ironic, then it's a huge success.
It would be nice if we could manage, for a change, to have an egg hunt that doesn't focus on the kid-eat-chocolate-rabbit level of competition, but focuses instead on the idea of grace. If we, as parents, could just sit back and let our kids do their best, and give them candy and hugs and love regardless of how many eggs end up in their basket. It would be nice, if the egg hunt really did reflect the theological truth it is intended to celebrate: that despite ourselves, grace and love win the day.
Here's to hoping.
(But I'm still bringing my kids' shin guards, helmets and pepper spray just in case...)