After quite a few long weeks of chocolate deprivation, the seasons have shifted. With three egg hunts in the span of a week, it’s hard to miss Easter’s coming, even if you are not a part of a faith community. Easter sunday gets the most attention of all the services of Holy Week. However, many who participate in the fullness of the days which take us from the foot of the cross all the way to the empty tomb, prefer the quiet reflection of the somber services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
This past Thursday, as members of my own church community sat around tables, sharing a simple meal of almonds, dates, grapes, and pita bread, we were each asked to reflect on a time when we witnessed the love of Christ. Not everyone had a chance to share, but even a small sampling of our different experiences of God’s radical love, was a reminder that the only was to really understand the resurrection is to engage with the crucifixion. I say this because most of the people who had the courage to talk about their experience of the love of Christ didn’t describe easy, uncomplicated moments of joy. From affirming the love of a husband who has nursed his spouse through countless reoccurrences of cancer to mentions of jail ministries or dealing with a family member suffering with drug addiction, all of the examples shared were an intermingling pain and sadness which, despite suffering, held glimmers of hope, just enough to keep everyone going.
Over the weekend, I have reflected on my own answer to this question. An image of my father, sitting at a table across from me at our local Baskin Robbins, kept coming to mind. He had a cut on his forehead, and I remember thinking that he looked smaller than I remembered when I left for college at the beginning of the semester. A few days earlier, in a fit of rage, my brother had struck my father on the head. The police were called in and eventually took my brother to jail for assault. Baskin Robbins was my version of neutral ground since I refused to go home. With my brother removed from the scene, there was no reason for me to be afraid. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to face the rock bottom that my father was living. It was easier to stay away.
I don’t think I was very good at being a sibling, even before my brother’s struggles with mental illness and drug addiction. Family members don’t really know what to do when things fall apart, particularly when they are no longer living at home and participating in day to day activities. From a few states away, it was easy for me to have an opinion about how my parents should react to my brother when he started going down a precarious path toward alcohol and drugs. Having just experienced high school drama, I warned my parents that things could get really bad, but as most parents of teenaged children do, they didn’t really know how to decelerate the train once it started rolling. We watched, paralyzed, as my brother’s life devolved.
It is what followed in the next five or so years which has given me perhaps the greatest personal example of God’s radical love shared from a father to a son. Since that day in Baskin Robbins, the image of my battered father, his own moment of crucifixion, has been backdrop of their relationship in my eyes. From a safe distance, I have watched my father search the earth for treatment facilities and programs which might afford my brother a real chance at recovery. My father was willing to risk both financial and personal distress, much to my dismay, even at the slightest glimmer of hope. I couldn’t understand his dogged persistence, but on the other hand, I am only a sister and not a father.
For many years, I believed that lasting recovery was not possible. Mostly I was too afraid to open my heart to the disappointment I feared would be inevitable. I had already decided that my brother would never get better. Yet, after quite a few failed attempts and even more moments of backsliding, my brother celebrated his first year of being substance free. It’s been almost five years. A few Easters ago, a pastor friend asked me what resurrection looked like in my life. I didn’t need time to think. My brother’s life immediately came to mind. What was all but dead, now had new life; what was once lost, had been found.
We have seen the radical love of God through the gracious care of fathers to son, daughters to ailing mothers, between neighbors, strangers, and friends and in so many other places. This past week, we encountered it at the cross. We journey through Holy Week to be reminded that life is often marked with pain and grief, no matter the darkness, resurrection always promises to follow.
Alleluia, the Lord has risen. The Lord has risen indeed, Alleluia.