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.”)
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.
“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.
“‘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.”