This week I found myself remembering a Holy Week long ago.
It was late in March after my dad had died in January.
I had spoken with his ‘baby sister’ early in the week. Her voice, by then, was weak, for cancer was stealing her last breath.
I live halfway across the country, so I sent flowers — an Easter lily whose promised arrival would be the day before Easter.
Jane died, though, before that lily would be delivered.
I remember calling the florist to have the message on the card changed. I do not recall what I asked the person on the other end of the line to change it to exactly, but I recall she thought I got it wrong somehow. Nor do I remember now what we finally settled on. I do remember that words were hard to come by that week, the grief was so heavy. In the course of a few short months, the losses had piled on stealing, it seemed, access to parts of my history which would forever remain out of reach now with the deaths of those two precious ones. It was not only the past which seemed inaccessible then, though. So did a future which would hold the same measure of joy as well.
I needed Easter, I did. I needed this Resurrection Promise more that season than ever before. But I was the one called upon to find the words to speak it first and I struggled to do so when I needed it most of all.
I thought of this again this week as I considered how I used to think of preaching in weeks which are packed full of leading worship in the way the one before us is. I thought of how I used to believe I could not possibly write an Easter sermon until at least after we had walked through the trial, the humiliation, the torture, the suffering, the death, the burial in a borrowed tomb. How could I formulate the words to speak of resurrected life before death had had its say.
I do not feel that way so much any more for “Good Friday” in the midst of our lives is no respecter of calendar. “Good Friday” is seldom hard to ‘find.’ Indeed, much of the world, too much of the time is tasting it even now, if not quite drowning in the reality of it, as I was that late March day so long ago. Truly, I can speak of Easter now — start to put my words together now for proclamation — even before the meal is shared, the feet are washed, the betrayal has had its way. Oh, I expect I am able to start to form these words of promise even now for I need it now, we need it now, as much as we ever have.
And as I do so, I do wonder at what the unimaginable promise of life in the place of death will sound like this season to countless ones I think of now.
How will the Resurrection Promise resound in the ears of one whose winter has been long and death has seemed to have had the last say too many times?
What will it sound like in the ears of one whose week-end is spent in a hospital bed waiting for a risky surgery first thing Monday morning, to the one who has just been arrested for his third DUI and who is waiting his court date, hoping the whole town did not read the police blotter last week, to the one who is afraid to hope that finally this pregnancy will hold?
What would the gift of life where death has seemed to hold sway mean to those whose fleeing for their lives has left them at our southern border with futures still uncertain?
To those whose livelihoods have been destroyed by flooding across our nation’s midsection?
To already desperately poor people whose meager existence has been wiped out by natural disaster or disease?
What does it mean to any and all of these and also to you and me to know that the story does not end with the closing of the tomb on Friday afternoon?
Indeed, what will this promise of life where there was only death mean to all this broken world?
And once that promise is spoken. And lived into. And had its way in renewing wonder and hope. Once all that is so, then what?
Indeed, what if having heard it and believed it, we actually began to live like it was so?
These are the beginning of my thoughts as I move towards Easter now.
May the Easter Promise be yours in all its fullness this year. And if you are one of those for whom the the losses have piled on, for whom the words are hard to come by, may you be blessed with a double measure of strength and power — and yes, just the right words —- that the Promise of the Resurrection might shine for you and through you.