Eastertide

In the wisdom of ancient Christian tradition Easter is not a one-day event but a season, the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost. The idea is that the message of Resurrection is so huge, so transcendent that it cannot be contained in a one-day observance. As I write we are halfway through the Season of Easter. Sometimes the season is called Eastertide, a lovely name, I have always thought.

In terms of the calendar, May 2020, it is a time unlike any we can remember: confined to our homes, sheltering, practicing social distancing – at least six feet, please, isolation actually, unable to put our arms around our children and grandchildren, no hugging anyone, unable even to shake hands warmly with dear friends. Social Scientists are analyzing the emotional and physical effects of distancing and minimal human contact and loneliness and urging us to do what we can to reach out to friends, particularly those who are alone. We decided to call at least one friend a day and, in a peculiar way, the result has been a deeper sense of friendship and renewed gratitude for the lives of our friends.

We need Eastertide. I need, as never before, the reminder that at the heart of my faith, at the heart of everything that is, is the good news that there is a light shining in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome the light.

As I hear reports of continuing infections, hospitalizations, intubations and deaths, I need a reminder that at the heart of all reality there is a love that overcomes everything, even death itself. As I ponder the truly heartbreaking reality of people dying alone in hospitals without the comforting presence of their dearest ones, I need the reminder that even in the valley of the shadow of death, God promises to be with us. (Psalm 23) And as I think about the unthinkable, unable to be with those I love dearly, to hold a hand, pat and comfort and express my grateful love, I need the promise that there is nowhere any of us can go that is outside the reach of God’s love: that “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night, even the darkness is not dark to you: the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.’” (Psalm 139)

I am grateful for the wise and good reminders of Eastertide. And, although not related theologically, I am grateful as never before that it is finally Spring. In the upper Midwest Spring takes its good old time coming. Where I live T.S. Eliot’s “April is the cruelest month” is painfully, literally true. Spring officially arrives March 21-22 but in Chicago it’s a bad joke. It snows in March and April and occasionally even May. To make matters more painful there is no baseball this year. Another precious, trusted tradition has been taken away from us and some of us are in grief and feel the loss profoundly. But – finally – it is Spring and life is reappearing and renewing all around us. Trees are budding, even my old, stately, stubborn Beeches which always seem reluctant to awaken, the daffodils came finally and stayed for a long time because it is so cold, iris are growing robustly, obviously planning to put on a luscious show by the end of the month. I am more aware than ever, more grateful than ever, that the power of life is planted so deeply in the creation, the world God made and gives us as a yearly gift.

I read a remarkable book recently that, in its own unique way, reminded me and celebrated the message of Eastertide, that out of the deepest darkness light does shine: that out of pure, unvarnished evil, the good always, always emerges and ultimately prevails. The book is Grace from the Rubble: Two Fathers’ Road to Reconciliation After the Oklahoma City Bombing. The author is Jeanne Bishop whose stunning 2015 book, A Change of Heart, chronicled her pregnant sister’s and brother-in-law’s brutal murder by a teenager – and the author’s progression through grief, anger, desire for revenge, to an honest encounter with her Christian faith’s mandate of forgiveness. After much personal struggle, Bishop made the courageous decision to reach out to the killer and, finally, to forgive. Grace from the Rubble tells the story of two fathers, Bud Welch, whose 23-year-old daughter, Julie, died in the bombing and Bill McVeigh whose son, Timothy, was the bomber, convicted, tried and executed. Both men lost their children. Bishop’s compelling narrative describes events leading up to the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1999, the horrendous destructiveness of the bombing itself and the aftermath in which the two fathers somehow remarkably find a way to forgive and forge a friendship.

It is an Easter story, of course, a fine way to remember the real life power, implications, and relevance of Resurrection. Grace from the Rubble is an Eastertide book which I am deeply grateful I read.

Comments

  1. Alison Chisolm says:

    You are so right – we all need Eastertide. And I too am grateful for the arrival of spring. As a native of Oklahoma City, I am heartened to hear that Jeanne has brought the story of these two fathers to a wider audience. I’ve read about it, but I have no doubt Jeanne’s take on it is special and profound.

  2. Jane Browne says:

    John your comments were the perfect thing for me to read first thing this morning. I almost felt like i could hear you preaching and it was soothing to my soul. Thank you. Sending a warm hug to you and Susan.

  3. Mary Rhodes says:

    Thank you, John. In my reading stack is Apeirogon by Colum McCann which tells a similar story, this time with Palestinian and Israeli. Be well.

  4. Vicky Brander says:

    Thank you, John. As all the diversions are stripped away (baseball, restaurants, theaters etc), I am trying hard to accept “non-attachment”. In the end, none of these diversions truly matter; instead these stand in the way of our need to abandon our illusions of control & attachments to this world, leaving us with one thing: God. Perhaps this is a radical lesson. Or at least a way to “reset” our society towards more sustainable choices.
    As someone who has not missed a Cubs Opening Day in decades, I am, at least. trying to embrace this line of thought. Reading your blog posts is a salve for the soul. Thank you & miss you.

  5. Jeanne Bishop says:

    You’ve done it again: reminded us of the beauty and majesty and profound love of God in these moments of daffodils, cold winds, physical separation and boundless friendship, budding beech trees and renewal. Thank you! And thank you for your kind words about my book, Grace From the Rubble. I love these two fathers, who show us how to respond to evil: with the unconquerable power of love.

  6. Thank you so much. “I needed this” doesn’t go deep enough.

  7. Stanley Smith says:

    Washington National
    Today at Washington National Cathedral they said they are requesting the names of
    loved ones lost to the Covid disease so they can be prayed for. Later the names will be
    held at Washington National as an archived memorial.

    I was reminded of a Memorial Day sermon by John Buchanan when he shared that he was named after his uncle John McCormick who was killed in WWII in the pacific theater. The family never learned the details or if he had been buried.

    The reading that day was something about God knowing the very number of hairs on your head or when a sparrow falls …your name is inscribed in the book of life etc.
    or something of that genre.

    Dr. Buchanan’s sermon continued…when he and his traveling companion were in Hawaii on vacation they happened to visit the Punch Bowl, The National Memorial Cemetery, which occupies an extinct volcanic crater.
    At the cemetery Dr. Buchanan shared the story of his uncle with the chaplain there and the chaplain suggested they take a look in the book of who was interred there.
    “and sure enough there he was, his name inscribed in the book.”

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