I love Easter. Every year, even as I groan at the arrival of warm weather and the hint of summer humidity I can feel in its balmy breath, I look forward to the celebration of Christ doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. I love the shiver of anticipation I always feel on Palm Sunday and the somber sweetness of Maundy Thursday. On Easter morning, I can’t wait to sing “Up from the grave He arose” with its crashing crescendo. And unlike Christmas, I’m never tempted to get wrapped up in the hype of trees, gifts, and lights…do we have enough lights???
A bunny bringing treats doesn’t hold much appeal for me. Maybe it’s because I’m not a big fan of chocolate or candy in general, except those little Peeps. Puncture the plastic wrapping, let them get slightly stale for a few days, and you’ve got yourself a real treat. Of course, you don’t need Easter for Peeps because now they come in pumpkins, snowmen, trees, and hearts for a year-round dose of marshmallow-y goodness. Anyway, I digress. The point is that I can do without Reese’s peanut butter eggs, gargantuan chocolate rabbits, and pastel M&Ms. Now, a bunny bringing a gooey cinnamon roll or a flaky slice of blackberry pie a la mode—that’s a bunny who would have my number.
And then there is the other Easter tradition of coloring eggs. Dying eggs is just plain tedious. As we all know, if you’re going to make them look halfway decent, you can never stop with just letting them marinate in the dye. There’s glitter and sequins and wraps and stickers, and don’t forget the little wax crayon for writing secret messages. Then, it never fails—you always end up cracking the prettiest eggs or losing track of them in an Easter egg hunt. Anyway, what a perfectly good waste of a dozen edible eggs! Unless you’re one of those weirdos who actually eats their Easter eggs…yeah, enough said.
But really, for me, the spiritual significance of Easter is just so precious that I don’t want to be distracted from the intensity of remembering Christ’s sacrifice in all its crushing pain and Christ’s victory in all its wonderful completeness. This year though, I have to confess that a glimmer of sadness has been building as we get closer to Easter. It calls up bittersweet memories that swirl in my heart and can’t seem to find a place to land.
A last photo of my dad and my daughters taken that final Easter weekend
Last year, my family got together as we often do on Easter weekend. We ate way too much food, engaged in a messed-up Easter egg hunt with eight people hiding them and one child hunting them, talked about things none of us can recall, snapped a few photos of the newest grandbabies, and then went home. An ordinary day, like so many Easters from the past—a little quieter maybe, a little more low-key because our parents are getting older, and so are we. But a milestone passed that day without any of us knowing it. The whisper was there, but we didn’t hear it over the loudness of everyday life. A week later, my dad began a downward spiral that landed him in the hospital the following weekend. Two weeks later, he was gone. During those final weeks, dad was rarely conscious or lucid. Easter had been our last family gathering with dad, our last chance to have real conversations with him.
And so there has been an edge to the approach of Easter this year. When a believer dies, we love to quote the words from I Corinthians 15:55: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” And I feel like we say it as if death should have no sting for the believer. But we were never created to die—physically or spiritually. We were never created to be apart from God or the ones we love. We were not made for that rupture. That is why death hurts even when it’s believers who must say goodbye to each other.
I read these verses again around the time my dad died, and I was struck by the context:
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The sting Christ’s death removes is not the grief of losing someone we love. That parting is real, and the pain runs deep because we were not created to know death. The sting Christ’s death removes is that sin holds no power over us in life or in death—it cannot separate us from God here or in eternity. Sin does separate us temporarily from those we love here on earth, but because of Christ, it cannot keep us separated from them in eternity. The victory Christ’s resurrection brings is that physical death cannot hold us. Death still comes to us, but we are with Christ and with our loved ones who have also placed their trust in Him.
Christ has absolutely conquered sin and death—that victory was complete on the first Easter. But our experience of that victory comes to completion when our perishable bodies are clothed with the imperishable, our mortal bodies with immortality. Until then, we stand in Christ, victorious over sin and death, but still touched by them on this earth in ways that break our hearts.
I often think about the days between Christ’s crucifixion and the resurrection, and I wonder about the thoughts and emotions of his family, friends, and followers as they lived through that time between. Christ’s death took most of them by surprise. Just as they hadn’t been expecting His death, they weren’t looking for His resurrection. They believed His death was final.
Can we imagine the staggering pain of saying goodbye to Jesus? Think of who He is to us—Love, Hope, Truth—and imagine being parted from His Presence. Could there be a greater grief than to say goodbye to the Lover of our souls? Their parting from Christ was temporary. His victory over death was never in doubt in the heavenly realms, but it was a bleak impossibility for those left behind. They had to live through the days between Death and Life. Christ had tenderly prepared them for this time, giving them all the truth and hope they needed to cling in faith to His resurrection. Yet instead of their grief being tempered by hope, they suffered as those who had no hope.
When someone we love dies, the rupture of our spirits rends us because we were created to love in a world without death. But where there is Christ, another dynamic is also at work. Death can part believers, but it cannot keep us apart. For those left behind, we are living through the days between death and life. They are excruciating. At times, it may seem that they will break us. But we can live these days as the disciples did—knowing the hope of resurrection but not living in its promise, “grieving like the rest of men, who have no hope” (I Thessalonians 4:13). Or, we can embrace the pain of parting, tenderly aware of the empty places left by those we love who have died, but grieving as people who “believe that Jesus died and rose again…” and “that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (I Thessalonians 4:14)
We will all lose someone we love. Sin’s ripples spread wider and wider, and death catches us in its wake. It is not whether we will live the days between, but how we will live them. A few years ago, a dear friend very unexpectedly lost her husband. As I was writing a card to her one day, God brought the idea to mind to tell my friend that her husband was as much in her future as he was in her past. How He has graciously reminded me of that same truth in this last year—that my dad is not just a part of my past, he is in my future! I miss my dad, but oh how I want to grieve him in the hope of Christ, feeling the pain of his parting graciously blunted by the comforting certainty of sweet reunion. Our grief can showcase our pain and fears, or it can demonstrate the power of the Gospel at work in our lives.
We tend to think there is a great gulf between life and death, but it only seems that way. We think of it as a veil of blackest wool—heavy and barely penetrable. Instead, it’s more like the filmy strands of a cobweb. It seems thicker at some times in some places, and other times, it thins so much, we wonder that it holds together for the holes. Sometimes, it is surreal for me to think that my dad is gone from this earth. A strangely new sadness pierces me as I remember again that he is beyond this time and place. But other times, often in the stillness of night, I find myself wondering what he is doing in heaven at that very moment. And in those moments, it comes naturally to me to ask Jesus to say hello to my daddy for me. That is the delicate balance of living through the days between, waiting for Easter to come.