Easter Monday

{Written Easter Monday, published Tuesday.}

 

My delight in waking to an Eastertide world feels like a miracle in itself this year.

The last benediction of yesterday’s daylight was a smattering of fat raindrops against the window-glass, each drop catching a beam warm and dazzling from the setting sun. We often laugh at the weather here, but somehow keeping a home where the sky bestows hail and rain and sun in the same breath is a comfort, as if the precipitation is proof that its Maker can hold other things together without contradicting Himself. Sorrow, love, pain, inexpressible joy.

This morning the sky was overcast, but the budding tulips were undaunted, and I managed to tuck a new handful of sugar snap pea seeds into the ground between lessons. Tonight, a spray of mums, carnations, and boxwood sprigs oversees the writing process that I’m happy to put my hand to once again.

It is the second day of the Easter season, and one day closer to the return of the King.

This year’s Lent seemed nearly overripe by its end — are all forty-day phases this grueling in length? I’ve wondered along the way — but it was a gauntlet I’ll always look back upon with gratitude.

Once, in college, I walked into our fellowship’s Friday night gathering and waved hello to one of our smallest members. She was a tiny girl, usually merry and spirited, but that night she hid her face in her mother’s shoulder and refused to answer any greetings.

“She spilled soda down her front,” her mother explained. “She’s just waiting for Daddy to get here and she doesn’t want anyone to touch her.”

The meeting began and all of us moved to our seats, but as the lights dimmed and the first chords of the opening worship song thrummed in crescendo, I caught a flash of light in the back row as the door opened. In an instant the little girl was leaning out of her mother’s arms with all her might, hurling herself toward the safety of her father with a wail of equal parts relief and misery: “Daddy, I’m dirty!

I don’t know why that image has remained so indelibly with me through the years. But no illustration could more clearly express the tenor of my past few weeks: a time of silence, of starkly admitting the ways in which my best intentions fail to curb the shards of my broken nature, and of deep relief over that admission. Here I am, Lord.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me…” and ah, how many there are. My thoughtlessness in conversation, my lack of compassion where compassion ought to abound. The Psychean task of trying to find balance as a writer when considering what to write, how to say it, whom to write it to, and keeping the inner critic on a short leash — and getting it wrong. My propensity to utter an ostensibly God-honoring sentiment as a front for self-justification: that is to say, my ability to say something glib about faith to another that I haven’t earned the right, through wrestling, to say yet.

In my thirties I have no less need for a Savior than I did as a child approaching Him for the first time. It seems greater now, in fact, because I can see where the spidery arteries and capillaries of my sin reach — where the toxin seeps into every motive, every action, every self-defensive maneuver. The love that ought flow freely from this forgiven debtor’s hands faces a constant bottleneck within me.

And yet, curiously enough, these hard admissions have cleared the way for consolation throughout these forty days.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Self-denial can never be defined as some profusion – be it ever so great – of individual acts of self-torment or of asceticism. . . . Self-denial means knowing only Christ, and no longer oneself.” (Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter) If confession begins the work of self-denial, then a hard look in the mirror is only the beginning. The gift of taking that hard look inward during these Lenten weeks, for me, was that Calvary and the Resurrection grew like a far-off light coming nearer and nearer, and every revelation of my shortcomings only increased my joy in the news that had already dawned upon the world so many centuries ago. “Christ is risen!” I exulted in a text to Y — on Wednesday, a full five days before Easter. I couldn’t help it.

Our Holy Week itself was one of the most eventful in recent memory, and one of the best.

I’ve held the fear of death close for the past few years. I haven’t always had it; I’ve wondered how it latched on and have tried desperately to shake it off at times, quoting and reasoning and theologizing at it for days and weeks and months when it rears its head. The fear itself isn’t as straightforward as a fear of dying, either; it has usually involved my potential culpability in the matter, a feeling of failure in present duties, and the desire for things to “be normal for a while” — with about a dozen other things, until the whole thing becomes a roiling, debilitating mess.

I wasn’t planning on going toe-to-toe with that fear last week, but one circumstance upon another brought me to a standstill. I was dealing with the effects of a minor illness unfamiliar to me, and anxiety began churning its wheels.

And then — quite suddenly — it stopped.

It came home to me, with an engulfing effect born from the Lent I had, that I was already living a forfeited life.

My many sins are forgiven. My end is redeemed. No matter what kind of sorrows may upend the world or my corner of it,

Father Abraham could not have dreamed of this
Could never understand the end of all those promises
How all the pieces fit, every star and grain of sand
Is safely hid in Jesus’ hand

(“Risen Indeed,” Andrew Peterson).

I had known and repeated these things to myself before, but for the first time a wide current of contentment — not mere resignation — flooded into the well-worn channels carved by fear.

If my Lord were to call me home this day, this would be a good place to die. (This likely sounds ridiculous to anyone unfamiliar with this fear, but one’s dragons are one’s own, and they rarely perish from disdain.) I thought of Wendell Berry and Ann Voskamp and others who are determined to live out their lives on the land where He has placed them, which they have learned to love and tend in faithfulness. From where I lay, I could hear the laughter of my children and see the garden biding its time until the last frost. And it was good.

I thought of a man named Clyde who farmed all his life in a North Carolina valley and developed a heart condition in his eighties. When his neighbors urged him to slow down for fear he’d fall over dead in the hay field, he replied, “Can’t think of a place I’d rather die.” In the still-dark hours of the morning he would walk up the hill to his barn to feed the mule, and it was there that a friend found him one November morning, just where his heart gave out as he opened the gate. “He still had two ears of corn in his hand. I guess Clyde died exactly the way he wanted to,” William Weber observes, pausing in his tribute to the man.

I thought of Eugene Peterson, who bore no fear about dying, and John Piper, who is in his seventies and seems to take more joy in his Lord each year. I thought of dear, older friends who have taught me the melody of courage and given me space to sing it back, however quaveringly, again and again.

Another wave of contentment came at the thought of following in these footsteps, and dying “in harness.” I am not always content at how I have gone about the jubilant work of being loved, of knowing Christ and making Him known, but I am content and shall ever be content to be found going about this work whenever the call Home comes.

I love a simple statement by Elisabeth Elliot that was shared at her memorial service: “I’m a handmaiden of the Lord. That’s… really all I want to be.”

This ambitious contentment was the gift that was quietly cultivated in me in the days leading up to Easter Sunday.

I do know that this spring will come to maturity and give way to autumn and winter again, and I know that moments of worry or dread may rise from time to time as I pass through my own seasons. But “I know whom I have believed,” and I am not afraid now concerning the life I live. Ascertaining its place in His hand has made me able to go about my work and tasks with cheer in my heart — to welcome the beauty of the day no matter what else it brings — to be so very glad of the work that is going on in every corner of the harvest. To go forward in peace.

In C. S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the crew of the expeditionary ship finds itself locked in the darkness surrounding the Island Where Dreams [Not Daydreams] Come True. Amid the sailors’ mounting horror and paralyzing dread of horrors, an albatross comes to guide them out into the sunlight and the open sea. This is a favorite passage of many, and the origin of the oft-quoted life-giving phrase, “Courage, dear heart.” But before the American edition was released for the first time, Lewis revised the chapter and added this glorious description:

And just as there are moments when simply to lie in bed and see the daylight pouring through your window and to hear the cheerful voice of an early postman or milkman down below and to realise that it was only a dream: it wasn’t real, is so heavenly that it was very nearly worth having the nightmare in order to have the joy of waking, so they all felt when they came out of the dark.

These words reflect the way I feel upon coming out into the light of this celebration of the Resurrection. I have a great talent for steering aimlessly in circles in the cold darkness of my fears. But to wake up from them — though the voyage continues and uncharted waters still lie ahead — to wake up from them and realize afresh that the great reality is that Christ is risen, and that He has “delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:15)… this is joy indeed for the blinded and addled voyager. 

This is the joy of the Eastertide soul.

 

2 comments

  1. Amy, though I’m reading this long after Easter Monday, it still very much resonated–the fear, the misery and relief of confession, the wonder and joy of finding myself beloved anyway. Oh, how I needed to read this today. Thank you thank you for such a beautifully articulate reminder of the things I am so quick to forget.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *