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Twenty Easters

2014 April 18
by Mike

My journey with Easter has come in three stages:

Stage One: We don’t celebrate Easter. I was raised in a tradition that (barely) tolerated bunnies, eggs, and jelly beans. But not the rest of Easter. The reason? “Because the Bible doesn’t mention Easter. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus every week.” The first sentence now strikes me—as one who sees Easter at the very center of the Bible’s story (even if it isn’t called that until later)—as funny. The Bible doesn’t mention Easter in the same way that the Chronicles of Narnia don’t mention Aslan. But honestly, I still have a deep appreciation for the second reason, for we are, indeed, the people of the resurrection. (Those who grew up in this tradition can appreciate the humor of someone’s “Hitler Easter video.”)

used by permission

used by permission

Stage Two: It’s ok to celebrate Easter. Yes, it was ok. Freeing, even. But just “ok.” Because as a person who often dwells in mystery and puzzlement, I found this to often be the church at its most “full solar spirituality” (to borrow from Barbara Brown Taylor). Extra assemblies! Bring in the visitors! Banish death! Promise healing, health, and forgiveness! Easter has a way of bringing out the kind of triumphalism that made the Apostle Paul queazy.

Stage Three: I can’t live without Easter.

This is my twentieth Easter since Megan died. For the first fifteen years, we held a small gathering of family and friends at her grave at sunrise on Easter morning. We read 1 Corinthians 15, listened to a song or two, exchanged Megan stories, and prayed. Marana Tha. For the last several years, I haven’t been in town on Easter Sunday, but different rituals continue. This morning, my three-year-old granddaughter and I visited the grave of the aunt she never knew, leaving Easter lilies and enjoying the beauty surrounding us.

Through the years, I’ve spoken and written a lot about Megan. I hope it hasn’t been just to work through my own grief. I’ve always had others in mind: those who have buried loved ones, those who live in fear, those who have failed big time, those who are suffering, those who don’t yet feel “strong at the broken places” (Hemingway). So “Megan” stories have been about an actual, loving, mentally-disabled child who died when she was ten. But they’ve also been metaphors for a larger human experience of brokenness and loss.

Does time help? Oh, yes. But it doesn’t remove all the pain. I’ve written before about a buddy of mine, a physician, who saw an 84-year-old patient and asked how she was doing. “I’m a bit sad today,” she said. “It’s the anniversary of my daughter’s death.” He immediately imagined what it must have been like for her to lose her adult daughter. He wondered if this daughter had her own children and perhaps grandchildren.

“I’m so sorry. How long ago did she pass away?”

“Sixty-two years ago,” the woman replied.

We grievers are so thankful for time, for friends, for memories, and for unpredicted joys.

But the real key is hope. And that’s what Easter is all about. It declares that God’s glorious future has broken into this world through the resurrection of Jesus. It announces the invasion of God’s kingdom of love and justice. While it doesn’t promise that all illnesses will be cured or that all depressions will be removed, it does offer a vision of the future that is secure. God will wipe away all tears.

As I wrote in Megan’s Secrets: What My Mentally Disabled Daughter Taught Me about Life

“The resurrection of Christ is terribly relevant for those who’ve been victims of injustice. For those who’ve been gutted by rejection or betrayal. For those who’ve faced every day with pain—of whatever sort. Or for those who’ve stood on a wind-kissed hill to pay final respects to a spouse, a child, or a friend.

with Ellie, Good Friday 2014

with Ellie, Good Friday 2014

“‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ said Jesus. Either he is or he isn’t. It depends on what happened that weekend in Palestine. For those like me who believe that he was raised by his Father, there is wild hope. Suffering and death do not have the final word. A day is coming when pain, failed relationships, bitterness, depression, and death will be put behind us. Jurgen Moltmann had it right: ‘God weeps with us so that we may someday laugh with him.’ That’s the outrageous joy called Easter!

“‘It makes a big difference whether we think someone is dead or alive,’ Luke Timothy Johnson puts it baldly. ‘The most important question concerning Jesus, then, is simply this: Do we think he is dead or alive?’

“What we believe about that question makes all the difference in the world.”

34 Responses leave one →
  1. April 18, 2014

    I remember when Jana and I were honored to be a part of one of those Easter gatherings by Megan’s graveside. It is a cherished memory.

    I know you know this, but Megan is sort of the patron angel of Highland. Your preaching over the years, which has been so formative for the Highland family, got us to hope but always honestly, never too quickly, and always through the pain. Through the pain, not around it. Consequently, Highland has been a beacon in our tradition when so many of our churches have rushed toward evangelical triumphalism or the Neo-Reformed cocksureness in the face of suffering. No celebration at Highland–from Mother’s Day to Easter–rushed past the pain. It was always there. Honest, sharp and hard.

    Megan was teaching us. She still is. I never met her, but she is perhaps the theologian who has affected my life more than any other.

  2. April 18, 2014

    Thank you Mike, that was a beautiful reflection. It’s so hard to put these kinds of hurts into words that make sense and it helps when someone does. God has been wiping away our tears for almost six years … we are learning as we go. Each day brings us closer to the day when we will see our boy again. The hope of Easter means everything.

  3. kathy stevens permalink
    April 18, 2014

    Thank you, Mike. For all you’ve said here.

  4. Danny Osborne permalink
    April 18, 2014

    Mike. Thank you for sharing those wonderful thoughts and reflections about Easter and Megan.

  5. Eileen permalink
    April 19, 2014

    I’m stuck at stage 2, dreading the life-is-great-because-Jesus-was-raised-from-the-dead-haven’t-you-read-1-Corinthians-15 message I have come to expect. I will enter tomorrow looking for hints of hope. Thanks.

  6. julie permalink
    April 19, 2014

    Mike, I love you and I love that you have shared Megan with all of us. Megan has walked through some difficult life with us and I think she wants to. You have allowed her memories and her realness to show us that making memories is part of our journey and that being real can be an advantage. I am looking forward to tomorrow. I love Easter for the hope stashed inside a terrible story of horror and death. It reminds me that there is always hope…even when I can’t see it.

  7. April 19, 2014

    “But hope [vs. optimism] stands in an altogether different orientation to time. Hope is born in the future—a future that is not out ahead of us, but that is a completely new reality, even now in small ways breaking into our lives. Hope is trust that though the monster may take me, though death may strike me, it cannot destroy me, for a future is on its way that stands in direct opposition to my present. A future is on its way that has no place for death, where death has been extracted and destroyed, where death has been evaporated by the white hot heat of God’s Love. This future (in its finality) is not here yet, but hope knows that it is on its way.” – Andrew Root, The Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as the Way of the Church

  8. April 20, 2014

    Thank you for this reflection and for telling us about Megan! We long for the day when Easter, known now by faith, will become sight.

  9. April 20, 2014

    Thanks for this, Mike. I’ve definitely been in the first two stages. I’m learning more about the third with your help and others. Learning to be “strong in the broken places” is definitely something Easter teaches me.

  10. April 21, 2014

    Thank you for sharing your wounds and your hope Mike.

  11. Philip Nichols permalink
    May 12, 2014

    always blessed to read your blogs. I have missed them in the last year. Keep it up when you have time.

  12. Mark permalink
    June 5, 2014

    Thanks for mentioning this. I’m sure it is not easy to do. To really understand Easter, you have to understand the never mentioned Good Friday and come to realize that the faith was in suspense over Shabbat. No one knew what would happen on Sunday. The women had accumulated the spices to put on the body so they weren’t expecting a resurrection.

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