The first time I really felt Easter, my grandmother was dying.
We had some warning, so that I was able to fly out to see her, lying shriveled and tiny in a mound of blankets, with the house full of music and laughter and tears and food. When I left to fly back to school to finish the semester, she was still alive, but I knew I would never see her again. I should have stayed.
It was two weeks before Easter. I had been sick, and then even when the germs were mostly gone I kept falling asleep for long stretches of time, oblivious to the world around me. A friend got me out of bed by promising to take me to a performance of the Bach St. Matthew Passion--one of my favorite classical pieces. It’s traditionally performed on Good Friday, and sets the text of the Passion chapters of the Gospel of St. Matthew to music.
To me, it is one of the most stunning interpretations of the last week of Christ’s life. You seem to see before your eyes the celebration of Palm Sunday, the apostles’ confusion and fear at the last supper, the betrayal, the long walk up the hill, the turning of the crowd.
And, finally, the death of Christ.
And then it ends.
I walked home from the concert feeling like the sky above me was hanging like an anvil on a thread.
I would have to wait. In a very real way, it felt like Christ was really dead for that space of time, dead until we could sing the hymns to raise him Easter morning. Death walked beside me, terrifyingly real.
That was nine Easters ago, and I haven’t felt it so strongly again until this year. This year, I am trying to get pregnant, and failing. People don’t often talk or write about this, so I had never really thought about it, until I was unexpectedly faced with the roller coaster months: starting off in hope, ending in me crying in the bathroom. Little deaths, month in, month out.
And all the time in between, waiting.
I wonder how time passed for people who loved Christ, when he was dead and lying in the tomb. He’d promised to come back, but they don’t act like they really believed he would. They put him in a tomb sealed with a giant stone. They come back three days later with spices to finish the burial. Their god is dead. They have nothing but a promise to comfort them as they wait in the dark.
Nine years ago, I went to church on Easter morning, two days after my grandmother’s funeral. We sang the resurrection hymns, and I felt them for the first time, as the sun rises, as the seeds split, as the world turns from snow to flowers. It flooded through me, fire and spirit.
Death is not the end. There is no end.
They come back to the tomb, and find it empty. In some way I think all people celebrate this each spring, in spirit or ritual or emotion: life over death, hope over pain, love over fear. We need it not when we’re winning, but when we’re losing. When it snows again after you thought spring was in the clear, and you know you will not get the thing you are praying for right now.
Still, the tomb is broken.
Still, the sunlight shines inside on bare grey stone, quiet and sure and always.
Life in death.
Hope in pain.
Love in fear.