The sun broke through the thin, whispery clouds, and its reflection in a pool of water collected from the previous night’s rain caught my eye. Suddenly the day was bright and the morning as clear and joyful as hope itself.
It was Easter morning in a year that will surely be marked down as the Year of the Great Pandemic in the officially approved histories of our time. Assuming, of course, there is no change in the near futures of those who shape and transmit “history” to their liking, in accordance with their preferred ideologies. Unlike every other Easter dawn in my life, our church would hold only a virtual service via its website on that perfect day.
So, I was walking on a crisp sunny morning, soaking up the bold, dewy colors of spring before returning home to watch the service. The flowers were blooming, looking for all the world like miniature stars in a green, leafy firmament.
At a pond near our house, the ducks were carrying out their annual rite of spring. Ducklings were hatching, and I had been keeping track of one particular hen and her brood. So far, all five ducklings have survived. The pond looked like a calendar print of an April morning. Turtles were sunning themselves on the still damp rocks, squirrels played on a tree limb, and ducks streamed slowly across the pond’s smooth surface, their shadows following in silhouette. Morning’s dance.
The sights and sounds of spring’s return were all around. The cooing of a mourning dove didn’t sound forlorn, like the sound of an unanswered prayer, but instead soft, gentle, and full of the elementary life force so evident that day. It occurred to me we are wrong to believe that God has disappeared from humanity’s sight. He’s been here all along, like a mindful parent watching His children from a distance, showing Himself only indirectly, in ways that children can’t fully appreciate.
A morning like that is its own justification, but I’ve seen others that inspire and move the spirit in different ways. The quiet reminded me of when I was a boy. Automobile traffic was much lighter, life a bit slower. Time seemed to eddy and flow with a different rhythm, the rhythm of youth.
Then, our still vital country was dynamic, but a certain serenity could be found for those who looked for it, and listened to the quiet. We were not then always drowning in a pool of electronic noise, or living in a virtual reality cocoon that fosters a false sense of omnipotence, blunting the sense of awe. Reverence was not entirely relegated to the dust bin of the past, and an imaginative mind could fill in the sounds of silence with a keen sensation of connection to something that was whispering to us. A something that occasionally raised its voice for those hard of hearing.
So I can’t say that “sheltering in place” has been all bad. Families are out and about, walking and riding bikes. Children are outside for a change, mothers and fathers together with them. This fleeting moment is allowing, strangely enough, a pace of life that is more conducive to a human, and humane, stride. That’s the way it should be, but too often isn’t.
On that Easter morning, I watched a mother teaching a little girl to ride a bicycle, bent over and trotting beside her daughter, the little princess not quite persuaded she could stay up on her own. Her father was smiling approvingly from their front lawn. I waved modestly at them, and mom and dad grinned back at me as I walked past.
They disappeared around a corner, and before long I heard mom shouting her approval as the little girl peddled her first distance all on her own, a scene I could only picture in my mind’s eye as they disappeared into that realm all people go to when they pass from our lives. They are still out there somewhere, and knowing that is enough.
I was nearing home when I saw another couple holding an Easter egg hunt for their three children. A thin little girl excitedly shouted and pointed at an egg balanced in the crook of a tree limb, her two smaller sisters jumping in excitement next to their taller sibling. The father smiled proudly, using his cell phone as a video camera. The mother was silent, arms crossed, but she glowed in the way only mothers can.
At home, I rushed upstairs to print the Easter morning service. My son joined my wife, myself, and my father, who appeared more at peace than I could remember him being in the five long years since my mother passed way. He sat silently, content and serene on the couch. My son connected a laptop to our television, so we could watch the service as performed by our pastor and a few congregants who led the singing of the hymns.
The acolytes approached the altar and lit the candles, and we began. It was a bit strange, even surreal, watching the event from afar, yet trying to participate at the same time. I was determined we would not let distance or the veil of technology obscure the holy day, so I sang as I would at any other service, trying to put some heart into the opening hymn, even if the heart was a bit off key.
The Gospel reading was from Matthew, as the two Marys encountered the risen Messiah. Christ told them not to be afraid, and to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where they would see Him, risen from the dead. And so it went. The lighting of the Paschal candle. The recitation of the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Our pastor delivering a heartfelt sermon. And we closed with one of my favorite hymns, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives:”
I know that my redeemer lives;
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, he lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my everlasting head.
The hymn seemed to lift us like the sound of an angel’s wings, as all the best sacred music does. For a time, it seemed we had even forgotten about the virus or, rather, the consequences of the viral outbreak that had dominated our lives and our conversations.
None of us know what will come after the pandemic. The entire episode could be another step on our way to oblivion, or a shout that could embolden the hard of hearing to reclaim something of their country and their own heritage as a free people. A shout that could force us to think of higher things, better things, and to live them out.
The night before Easter, I had thought of my mother, who all her life had emulated the kindness of her grandmother, whom all of us thought saintly. I remembered a birthday when my father had gifted me a still life painting of roses my mother had done decades before.
That night I dreamed of my paternal grandfather: a just man, a good man long gone. As he was dying, his body had withered and his memory had faded, but in my dream he appeared restored—not young but neither old nor infirm. He appeared upright, slim, and vigorous, as he had been when I was a boy.
They were all in my thoughts: my mother, my great-grandmother, and my grandfather, and it occurred to me we had no right to forget the goodness they had represented. I’ve seen it written that perhaps it is not the problem of evil that should confound us, but the mystery of goodness.
Each of those who haunted my memory on that Easter weekend had, in their way, brought a bit of goodness into the world. Each had left something that could guide us in the confusing, foreboding times we live in. Each had lived through trials and tribulations, and had taken joy in the small things, the tender mercies of the good in their lives. The Easter message of resurrection teaches us the hope of revival, and the possibility of restoration, initiating us into the mystery of sacrificial goodness.
Image Credit: young ducks and mother in pond
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