I am aware that Easter has passed some time ago now, but this year I have felt its draw still these weeks later. I want to hold this Easter a little longer in my memory, to reflect on its meaning even after it has come and gone.
Easter means many things to many people.
For my children it is a hunt for eggs full of candy and my wife’s yeasted Belgian waffles. For many high church Christians it is the thrilling scent of lilies and the sacred lilt of liturgy at an Easter Vigil. For some of us, Easter is the ancient and abiding story of the God who died and came to life again, a God whose experience of incarnation echoes across the relentless cycles of fertility and death. The God whose presence Spring forever recalls and whose absence Winter often evokes. These are all beautiful vistas on the miracles of Easter.
But sometimes these Easters seem at best platitudinous.
I am not interested in rehearsing here the sadness that has hovered over the last many months for my family, brooding like the destroying angel over a dwelling in Egypt as it inspects the doorframe for a streak of blood from a paschal lamb. Suffice it to say that the prayerful sadness of my beloved’s recent illness has colored my experience of Easter.
A constitutionally pessimistic soul prone to lose himself in words, I have come to see Easter as the possibility of love and hope in the midst of misery and confusion. As the possibility that meaning can arise within mourning. I do not have in mind here any silver lining in any cloud, any quick wordplay or distraction to sideline grief. I mean that the mysterious work of godliness directly inhabits struggle and disappointment. The mysterious work of Easter heals us in our often unhappy confusion.
On that first Easter before Mary brought back the good news, the early disciples were devastated at the loss of their beloved Jesus, but they also mourned their utter misapprehension of his mission. Many early followers of Jesus had expected their Messiah to eject the Romans, unseat the established priests, and restore Davidic Israel to its former glory. Others had perhaps just expected from him a better life. None, or almost none, expected their Messiah to be executed as a prophet of sedition. The Jewish God of history, the one who decreed every important human event, had become complicit in the human tragedy of Jesus: a radical, messianic prophet fighting against the political establishment, executed as an enemy to the state.
Jesus returned, and in his return he signaled that life could persist, in Him, even beyond the heavy curtain of death. Mary’s news of the risen Christ brought great happiness to her friends, but this Marian revelation also highlighted the disciples’ confusion. They had never really known Christ. They too had been complicit in the world’s misreading of Jesus’s identity. The reality of the risen Christ, the God-man who reaped execution instead of Israel’s immediate restoration would prove to be much harder but far greater than a political or military savior. After a few too brief weeks, Jesus left his disciples again, and in many respects these men and women remained as befuddled as they were before the Easter miracle, though the details of their confusion had changed. After Jesus left, many of the disciples rushed about preparing for the imminent end of the world; some even abstained from creating families, so urgent was the reality of the world’s end. But time kept on its linear path, at once horrific and prosaic. People suffered and died, they loved and reproduced, they lied and wrote poetry, they squabbled and supplicated God.
Then and since, the followers of Christ have made plans for their lives and often found those plans utterly irrelevant to the lives God actually called them to live. In their confusion, that painful wondering why our lives differ from our plans and aspirations, stands the Easter miracle of love in God. Out of our dim wits and our yearning hearts God slowly shapes beings of great and eternal beauty. As we tatter and we tear, we yearning fools are drawn into the majesty of the divine presence. Pray we must, but we never do know the end from the beginning. In the midst of our misery and confusion we reach out to each other and to God, and we are made whole. Not free from misery, but whole in the presence of God.
I have come to see in Easter a prayer that love and hope can coexist with misery and confusion. That prayer I share with countless generations of hapless fools yearning for the presence of God.