When I was a little girl, my family used to gather in Palm Springs every Easter. It was a fun-filled time of hunting for eggs with my cousins, enjoying brunch at the country club, and joyful reflection on Christ’s resurrection.
This year on Easter I found myself in Palm Springs once again for a very different reason: Coachella. My friends and I stayed in the same place I used to stay every Easter: my grandparents’ house. Amidst a breathlessly fun weekend, it was a blessing to have a home base where we could shower and rest before driving back to the festival grounds in Indio.
One of my friends had finals directly after Weekend 2, so we opted for Weekend 1. At the time we didn’t realize that Easter fell on the same Sunday. Yet when the weekend came, she told me, “I don’t feel bad about being here, but I don’t want to post any pictures on Sunday. I don’t want to distract people from the true meaning of Easter.”
Her comment wasn’t meant as a joke, but it was funny to me. The true meaning of Easter? Even in my fairly religious family, our celebrations have never been exceedingly religious. Historically, Easter was designed to fall around the time of the vernal equinox, sort of like how Coachella is always planned towards the end of April. Some of Easter’s most pervasive symbols, like bunnies, and colored eggs, come from pagan rituals. Even the name “Easter” is derived from “Ostara,” a fertility goddess. Yet much like other secular holidays, Easter was eventually co-opted by Christianity and rebranded to signify a meaningful event: Christ’s death and resurrection.
On April 16th, 2016, my social media feeds became a pathwork, alternating between families dressed up for Easter and friends in a different kind of Sunday best at Coachella. It’s not every day that the dichotomy between “Christian” and “secular” is laid out so clearly. My friend and I decided to compromise and partake in both: we attended an Easter service before enjoying the final day of Coachella.
We went to a nondenominational church, one that has a relationship with my home church in Irvine. Its congregation was large enough that we could anonymously slip into the back, and we figured that people there would accept us despite our Coachella outfits and wristbands. So I was a little annoyed when the pastor made a dig at the festival: “For some of you this is your home church, some of you might just be here for Easter and you’re coming back on Christmas, and some of you might just be high on weed, wandering in here from Coachella. Either way, you are welcome here.” Thanks, I guess?
The rest of the sermon was good, but I couldn’t help being bothered by that opening comment. His remark showed a very one-sided attitude towards the demographic of those who attend Coachella—and those who attend his church beforehand. If someone is going out of their way to attend church during a festival weekend, isn’t that a good thing? We weren’t the only ones either. We ran into two of our sorority sisters who were at the same church, also headed to Coachella afterwards.
Why do people go to music festivals? The answer varies slightly with each person. I was there to see Bon Iver and The Head and the Heart and dozens of other performers up close, and—admittedly—to get some cute Instagram pics. Others come to rub elbows with celebrities or simply blow off steam with friends. And, okay, some people do want to get high in the desert. At its core, Coachella promises an elevation from the mundane. People from LA and Orange County and San Antonio and all over the word come there looking for an interruption, something to add color and joy to their daily lives.
Here’s the story of Easter: Jesus came to teach and heal humanity. On the first day, he died brutally on a cross, betrayed by people from his own community, to carry and redeem our sins. But on the third day, he rose again. What was dead came back to life.
The masses of people who congregate at Coachella are looking for something to celebrate, for a way to feel alive again. It’s a place of joy and connection, a place to instantly bond with the stranger who’s singing along to Lorde at the top of his lungs, a place to strike up an insightful conversation with someone at the phone charging station in the Heineken tent. “I feel like all the people here are just friends who don’t know each other,” I remarked at one point.
I think Heaven will be something like Coachella, except the dust won’t trigger allergies, our feet won’t hurt after walking around all day in sandals, and we won’t feel claustrophobic from being around all the people there. Instead of Kendrick Lamar or Lady Gaga, we’ll be face to face with our Lord, glorifying Him in all His wonder. It’s going to be a bazillion times more incredible than anything we can fathom here on Earth.
I’m so glad I spent my Easter at Coachella. I’m immensely thankful that I got to celebrate Christ’s resurrection by doing something that made my soul feel alive. God isn’t found only in a church building; we carry the Holy Spirit with us wherever we go. On the third day of Coachella, I looked around at this field filled with people joyfully dancing, this space flooding with music and light and color, and said a silent prayer to God: “You are so present right now. Thank you for this moment.”