I grew up in a “Creaster” household—we went to church on Christmas and Easter.
Christmas? Not my favorite. As a public-school girl occasionally attending a small church with a small, private school attached, Christmas was the day of the year when I was reminded, absolutely, that I didn’t belong. Every year, as we entered the sanctuary, a suit-and-tied usher would say, “You’re non-members? Sit in the back three pews.” So we did—my family and one or two others. Meanwhile, the church kids sat together in the front three pews—in shining, satiny robes. From their priority seating, the church kids knelt, stood, faced their audience, sang, read, and performed. They knew what was what. I did not. Now, I know the rest of the story. Then, I only knew what they showed me—manger, cattle, star, wise men. The message just didn’t grab hold of me the way The Grinch Who Stole Christmas did. Where was the love? Where was the Savior? Additionally, it was my misery to wear red-and-green crocheted vests or Christmas dresses that my grandma made. I’ll never forget, one year, walking into the sanctuary and looking hopefully to a girl I knew from Girl Scouts who said, “Why are you here? And what are you wearing?” Thinking back on those Christmases, I still feel a little sad, a little self-conscious, more than a little in need of a flesh-and-blood Savior.
But Easter? I loved Easter. Even at that seeker-insensitive church, it was my absolute favorite. It was the one time of year that I’d get all new clothes—a fancy dress that I chose, lacy bobby socks, shiny shoes, sometimes, depending upon the weather, a very ruffly, girly spring jacket. (So much better than the hand-me-down windbreakers I usually got from my brother.) Then, bonus, at the service, we could sit wherever we wanted to—even in the front if we arrived early enough. There were flowers everywhere, the Easter lily cross strategically placed where the morning sun would beam on it through stained-glass windows. There were trumpets. There were hymns—familiar, anticipated hymns to sing along with. (Does anybody else remember trumpets and “Christ the Lord is risen today! Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-le-hey-lu-oo-ia.”) We were all invited to participate in the story—a resurrection story. Everybody was joyful, smiling, spring-filled, hope-filled. And, of course, best of all, there was the constant message: Jesus died for you; Jesus was resurrected for you; Jesus is resurrecting, still; Jesus makes all things new; hope lives! There was the opening echo that Todd shared at our Easter services this year. He is risen! He is risen, indeed!
There was so much I didn’t know about the Bible, about Christianity, about church, about so many things, really.
But I’d seen lives resurrected. I’d seen hope restored. I’d seen redemption come at long last. I’d seen what God and God alone could do. And I’d seen how limited, how human, how fallen (to use a Biblical term) we mere mortals were.
I didn’t go to church, really. (Remember: Creaster.) I didn’t read the Bible. I didn’t have people sharing Scripture or stories or “the gospel” with me. What I did have, though, was a handful of people—a neighbor, a teacher, an aunt, a friend—who were bright, beaming Easter lily crosses in my life. Without theology, without words, without formal instruction, through them, I saw the truth of “He is risen!” again and again and again.
Every Easter from the pulpit, and every day through their lives, I recognized Biblical truths: humility, sacrifice, generosity, other-centeredness, gratitude, surrender, obedience, forgiveness, darkness-to-light resurrection, grace, hope, and so much love. Easter came just once a year, but it was my reminder, my touchstone, my hope, my yes, yes, yes! Yes, there was Good Friday agony. And, YES! There was Easter joy.
Pope John Paul II said, “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people, and hallelujah is our song.” Yes. Yes. Yes. From before I had words to articulate it, I knew in my bones that Easter was my annual hallelujah song, but I could have a daily, constant hallelujah song. And that hallelujah was the word for choosing faith over fear, hope over despair, mercy over vengeance, life over death.
As we move past Easter—though we really never move past Easter, right?—I am remembering and celebrating our services. Hallelujah! And I am remembering, celebrating, and holding onto the shared-in-hallways, precious-to-me stories of only God’s power. We can choose despair. Or we can choose to sing: HALLELUJAH!
Feel free to add your hallelujah story to this partial list:
- The 70-something man who accepts, loves, respects, and tenderly cares for his 60-something brother who is afflicted with severe (and sometimes scary) schizophrenia. Hallelujah!
- The woman who is acknowledging and facing her anger and addictions—and giving them to God for His healing. Hallelujah!
- The woman who, after a decade, chose to forgive her only sister for what she said. Hallelujah!
- The household who, post-Home commitment, had their household fall physically apart, and are trusting God to provide, still, despite their costly home repairs. Hallelujah!
- The dad who is grateful for his daughter’s difficult diagnosis because it helps him love her better and helps him get the right treatment for her. Hallelujah!
- The couple who, following their daughter’s suicide, are not just going on but going on in hope and faith as they mourn deeply. Hallelujah!
- The young man who, though knowing about Jesus his whole life, is just now, post-Alpha, taking steps to know Him and His people, personally. Hallelujah.
- The Del Webb couple who, after running out of options, invited their neighbor’s small group to come and pray with them and for them—and then their whole life changed. Hallelujah.
- The man who said: “My way isn’t working. I think I’m finally ready to let go and let God.” Hallelujah.
- The couple who, after a decade of sparring, sought counsel and reconciliation, who chose mercy over condemnation. Hallelujah.
We are the Easter people. Hallelujah is our song. What is your hallelujah song?