Waiting for Easter
On Ash Wednesday I attended a service at a local Catholic church. We sang about how we are made of dust, and to dust we will return. We had ashes spread across our foreheads in the shape of a cross, a reminder that soon we will celebrate Good Friday, when Jesus died on one. I stood in that service as we sang about ashes and fought back the tears, feeling the weight of the ashes that have laid heavy on my life this year. When something burns down, ashes are always left behind. So it’s comforting to know that God can take dust and turn it into something as beautiful as humanity. There is no limit to what he can form out of ashes. But we cannot deny the pain or the impact of the ashes when something burns down.
As I contemplate this Easter season from my current outpost in life, I find myself searching the Gospels for a part of the story that is not recorded. In each one, we read about the events leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion. We read about the details of his horrible death. We read about his burial. And then each writer goes directly to the resurrection. But this year I find myself wondering what his followers did in the long hours between the death and resurrection. It was only a couple of days, but it likely felt like an eternity. The one in whom they had placed their hopes was dead. And not only dead—he had been tortured, humiliated. Those who had followed him and called him Lord must have felt the weight of a million ashes on their hearts as they processed what had happened. They saw their hopes beaten and pierced. They felt their hope drip out with the blood on his forehead, his hands, his feet. And as if that weren’t bad enough, they then had to watch their hope gush out of his side. Their hope was placed in a tomb for dead things. Their dreams and futures lay in ashes. I wonder if they were able to sleep that night. I doubt it. But the ones who did likely woke up in the morning feeling nauseated and depressed. What did they do? Did they get together and comfort one another? Did anyone hold out hope for resurrection? Did they internally chastise themselves for being so foolish as to think that this time, this person was going to change the world?
When their hearts were so broken that they didn’t think they could keep living, I wonder if well-meaning people said things to them like, “Keep your head up,” “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” “When God closes a door, he opens a window,” “Good things come to those who wait,” “You just have to trust God’s timing,” “He’s in a better place,” or “You just have to move on.” I wonder if they felt like sorrow would swallow them whole and nothing would ever be okay again. I bet it felt like forever.
But then … when sorrow was at its highest point, something amazing happened. Resurrection. Against all logic and all odds, he came back to them. And the hope they felt before was not only restored—it was unimaginably magnified. Who was this man who could conquer death? Surely, he was worthy of their hope. If he could conquer the greatest challenge that humanity faces, he must be who he claimed to be.
I wish we had the story of what his believers endured while he was in the tomb. Because something happened; it changed them. Resurrection came, and hope was restored, but what they felt in the in-between time did something to them. You never face a death that doesn’t change you.
Resurrection is so much sweeter against the backdrop of the pain of grief. And the Easter story reminds us of this. Death is inevitable. Life will have times that feel like death. Things will burn down. Ashes will stack heavy on your heart. And after the destruction, there will be long days that are difficult to walk. But … Jesus. His story makes it clear that resurrection always has the final say.
It’s okay to feel the pain in the death and the waiting. But resurrection will come. Joy will arrive in the morning. God will breathe new life into dry bones. He will change you in ways that needed changing and heal you in ways you didn’t know needed healing. He does not leave you in a grave of death. He climbs in there with you and gently restores you to life. And life after death gives you new eyes to see and appreciate things more fully. Ashes become art, and tears lead to a river of life. But in those in-between days, while you wait for resurrection, don’t deny the pain. Just hold somebody’s hand.