You can count on Wal-Mart. Every year, beginning the day after Valentine's Day, the retail giant's aisles overflow with rabbit-ear headbands, plastic peeping chicks and talking, singing, dancing stuffed rabbits in your choice of springtime pastels. Chocolate bunnies peep out from wicker baskets and plastic hens sit smugly atop foil-wrapped candy eggs filled with caramel, marshmallow and coconut cream.
Meanwhile, the real message of Easter knows no season. In fact, one of my own favorite Easter moments took place a couple of years ago — in July.
My husband, Dan, was working late. Electric fans blew hot, humid air in all directions. The heavy odor of an overflowing kitchen garbage can hung in the air and sweat trickled down the back of my maternity blouse as I prepared dinner for the children. Gasping for breath, I plunked a plate of grilled hot dogs and chopped vegetables on the dining-room table. “Hot dogs?” one of the children moaned. “Didn't we have hot dogs already this week?” I didn't answer, but he was right.
“Do we hafta drink milk?” another child griped. “It's too hot to drink milk.”
In brooding silence, I poured lukewarm milk into four plastic cups.
Then, as 2-year-old Juliette reached across the table for her cup, she knocked over the other three. White liquid spread across the table, dripped into the space between its leaves and trickled onto the floor.
If you have ever been eight and a half months pregnant, or if you have ever endured a stifling New England summer night without air conditioning, you might find it in your heart to forgive me for the way in which I was planning to respond.
Thankfully, though, we were distracted by a sudden thump and a scuffling just outside the front door. We hurried outside and were startled to find a small black-and-white bird lying lifeless in the walk-way. I recognized it instantly as a chickadee. Instinctively, I stooped to pick it up. The children gathered around and stared with hushed amazement at the tiny creature in my hands.
“Oooooh …” Juliette's eyes grew wide and her little lips formed a perfect circle.
“It must have flown into a window and died,” I told her.
The bird was warm and almost weightless in my hands. Its eyes were closed and its miniature legs hung limply from my fingers. I extended one of its wings and examined its flawless feathers. Then I glanced toward the nearby woods and contemplated an appropriate burial ground.
Suddenly the children gasped. “Look at its eyes!” they cried. “They're moving!”
The bird's eyelids fluttered and its wings flapped. We stood in quiet wonder as the tiny creature struggled, strained and finally righted itself. Then the resurrected bird stood blinking in my cupped palms, turning its head from side to side. With a final fluttering flourish, it took to the air. We watched in silence as it arched gracefully into the sky, farther and farther away. It became a small speck on the horizon and then vanished from our view.
From time to time I like to think back on that little bird, letting him remind me that we are helpless and weak in the hands of a loving God. We are bruised and broken by our sins. At the end of a long Lent, in the midst of sacrifice and daily drudgery, the Easter message of hope, joy and new life is beautiful and real, unexpected and astonishing. Our risen Lord transcends human suffering and through him we are renewed.
At Easter, we are resurrected. A triumphant Christ enters through our locked doors. He wipes away the tears of the sorrowful, invites skeptics to examine his wounds, breathes upon the trembling to give them strength. Our Lord cradles us in his healing hands, gives us wings and urges us to fly.
Danielle Bean writes from Center Harbor, New Hampshire.
- April 11-17, 2004