One day when I was eight-years-old I was walking through the kitchen and there on the counter was a full size Hershey’s chocolate bar, not one of those little miniatures, a full size candy bar. I wanted that candy bar. A lot. So I looked right and left, around the corner and behind me to make sure no one else was looking, and I took it. I went into my room and hid it in this little red and white lunch box that I played with sometimes. That night at dinner my mom asked my brothers and me if any of us had seen that chocolate bar. We all said no. One of us was lying. You’d think that I might eat that chocolate bar, but no, I just opened the lunch box from time to time and looked at it. Big, whole, beautiful and full of chocolaty goodness. Later that week my mom decided that it was time to clean my room and she was going to help me. Before I could do anything she was picking up the red and white lunch box. That’s when it happened, my fervent prayer. I shut my eyes and prayed with all my eight-year-old worth; “Please God, please, please, please, make her not open that lunch box.” Then as her hand moved towards the clasp, “Please God, please, please, please, make that chocolate bar disappear!” There was silence in the room. I finally opened my eyes to see my mother looking at me with that mother look and holding the chocolate bar in her hand. And I shut my eyes again and said to God; “I’m so disappointed in you.”
Fast-forward several years. I was in college and my friend Mary was in a terrible car accident and I prayed and prayed, please God, please, please, please, make her be okay. But she wasn’t. And I shut my eyes again and I said to God; “I’m so disappointed in you.”
But of course that disappointment was so much deeper. I was older, wiser; I understood that we lived in a broken world and that sometimes bad things happen. I knew in my head that it was not God’s fault but my heart was so sad. I had hoped that Mary – bright, loud, cheerful Mary, might live. And now it felt like I was living in a world that was only full of sorrow and sadness, like there was no longer any color or brightness to be seen.
I remember driving to Mary’s funeral with a friend. We had to drive from college to her hometown and we ended up being a little bit late to the service. We had to sit upstairs in the balcony. I remember walking up those stairs thinking that this was going to be awful. But as I rounded the corner from the stairs to the place where I could see the front of the church, the singing started. It was the chorus of a song we used to sing at camp; alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. I walked forward to my seat and looked down at all the people, at the flowers and Mary’s family and the empty cross. The music swelled from the floor and rose up to the rafters of that church, filling the space with song; louder and louder, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. I could see Mary’s mother singing in the front row. She was smiling, her head up and her eyes fixed on that cross. That empty cross that rose above everything else in the sanctuary. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. And in that moment, at that funeral, we celebrated Easter. We celebrated that in spite of death and sorrow and sadness God was present with us and for us. We celebrated because Easter is not just a time for flowers and eggs; we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We celebrated Jesus’ triumph over sin and death.