Amazing things have happened in the 2,000 years since Jesus Christ lived. But none compares with what Christianity celebrates today.
Eternal life. That’s what Easter is about. Not fancy hats or frilly dresses or Cadbury eggs or lilies or bunnies or patent leather shoes or Easter egg hunts or even family get-togethers.
Easter is about all that cannot be seen.
A man is nailed to a cross, dies, and is buried and his body disappears from his tomb, and a few days later he’s back talking to friends.
He’s dead. And then he isn’t.
This is what Christians believe.
Amazing things have happened in the 2,000 years since Jesus Christ lived and died and then lived again. Whole civilizations have come and gone. People have walked on the moon. Men and women can now live because someone else’s heart is beating in their bodies and someone else’s lungs are inhaling and exhaling air. Limbs can be harvested from a dead person and attached to a living one. Even the creation of life has changed, able to begin now in a laboratory.
Incredible, impossible, mind-bending accomplishments. Yet none compares with what we celebrate today, because no one before Jesus or since Jesus has ever been born and died and come back to say here I am.
Not in the flesh, anyway. Not in a form we instantly recognize. And we hunger for that flesh and that voice, Thomases, all of us. Thomas was lucky because he got to put his hand in Jesus’ side.
Here I am, daughter. I am OK. This is what we want. Proof. Here I am, son. I’m better than OK. A smile. A hug. Here I am, Mom. Dad. I still love you. I’m still with you. Here we are. We’re good. Better than good. They didn’t lie. This is paradise. You’ll see.
This is what we ache to hear.
In our hemisphere, where Easter coincides with spring, where tender shoots come up from ground that was frozen just a few weeks ago, where buds spring green and swollen with life thrive and grow on tree limbs that look like sticks, it’s possible to believe, for a while anyway, that nothing really dies. These physical, tangible, annual signs of rebirth assure and comfort us.
Yet still, a woman in her 80s talks about her father’s death. And 70 years later, the loss of him continues to bring her to tears.
It’s our biggest dichotomy, life and death. They’re opposite sides of the coin. Joy and sorrow. Abundance and loss. Here today. Gone tomorrow.
The wonder is that we live with this. We live in spite of this.
Because the truth is when someone dies, it doesn’t feel like a beginning. It feels like an end because it is the end of the only life we know.
And it’s the life we know, this life that we cherish, that we want back for the people we love.
My mother was dead many years when my neighbor Bert Merlin knocked on my front door and gave me a stained glass bluebird he’d made. He’d never given me anything before. I hung it in my kitchen window.
A year later I was reading over my journal and was stunned by something I hadn’t realized before. Bert had given me that bluebird on the anniversary of my mother’s death. “I’ll come back as a bird, you’ll see,” she’d said so many times. And I’d laughed.
People say that these things are random. But they’re not. The butterfly that won’t let you alone the day after you bury your father? Your daughter’s name everywhere you look? Her smell? His song? Three gerber daisies? A sense of him or her beside you? Things that make you start, then say that can’t be?
You try to give words to these things, to explain, but it’s like trying to hold smoke in a jar or catch a ball coming at you in a 3D movie. The smoke is there and the ball, too. But even as you reach for them, they disappear.
Robins are back. And goldfinches. Ponds are liquid again. Streams flow. The days are getting longer, the sun stronger. Everything’s a circle. And a circle has no end.
Easter is about this circle, about life without end. It’s the ecclesiastic-version Outward Bound. Close your eyes. Lean back. Have faith and trust.
You will fall. It’s part of the program. You have to fall.
But you will be caught.