Easter was not that big a deal in my house growing up. I remember waking to find a basket on the kitchen table with various candy and sweets - mostly Reese's products (Note: If you're every trying to bribe me, consider Reese's Peanut Butter Cups your go-to move!). Early on, there was usually an egg hunt with more candy to be procured once the eggs were opened. Church wasn't that different from a regular week. For whatever reason, the ladies at church made a big deal about getting new Easter dresses to wear to church. 'Holy Week' did not even enter my vocabulary until graduate school because my faith tradition argued that we celebrated Easter - i.e. the resurrection of Christ - every week. Lent was only what you found in... well, never mind. You get the idea.
Now that we live in Michigan, it is so interesting how significant Easter is here, even to people who have no interest in theological or religious discussions on a regular basis. I assume it has to do with the heavy permeative influence of Catholicism and Lutheranism within this region, traditions built around liturgies and religious calendars. People at coffee shops, the hospital, drive-throughs, and grocery stores all wish one another 'Happy Easter.' That didn't happen in west Tennessee. People whom you would have no idea they knew what church was openly state they are going to church this Sunday and (most of them) are excited about it. The culture seems to come alive with religious discussion and a willingness to consider a story larger than themselves.
The Easter story is the ultimate story of hope - a hope very different than optimism. Optimism is the belief that things will eventually get better. Hope is rooted in faith in a person - one who lives despite having tasted death - who is in control regardless of how bad the situation is and whether or not the situation ever improves. Easter matters, not because of candy and bunnies, but because the human life replays the story of Holy Week - death, burial, resurrection - over and over and over again.
Many are living this story, but the one that continues to fill my thoughts is Will Gray. Will is a high school friend and teammate who lives in southern California with his wife Angie. Will was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago and recently found out it has spread throughout his body. He plans to come home with hospice in the next day or so with the medical staff having stated his condition is 'incurable.' Will is one of the most gifted individuals I have ever met. He exudes vitality, strength, and creativity in his pursuit of blessing others via his passion for music, life, and the kingdom of God. Will is one of those guys that everyone who knew him anticipated the day when his vibrance would be unleashed on the world and the world would be better off because of it.
This being Holy Week could not be more appropriate. We are all stunned and grieve with Will, Angie, and their families as they in some way live out the story of Holy Week. They sit perhaps in Gethsemane praying that this cup would be taken from them with the hard-to-swallow realization that Friday may come sooner than any of us want. People all over the world ask that 'incurable' no longer be part of Will's story. I ask that. Friday comes for all of us. And yet, the best part of Holy Week is that the week does not end on Friday. Sunday's still coming. Sunday exists beyond our graveyards, tombstones, and funerals. Sunday is the day life is re-infused into every dark corner of despair and death by the God who has already been there, sat in Gethsemane, and experienced the sting of Friday. Sunday says that our story, our voice, and our impact on the world do not end on Friday. We continue to pray that Friday will not come for Will for many years and we pray for a world with Will in it. However, we also know (and Will knows) that Friday does not get the final word. Holy Week ends on Sunday. And because of Sunday, fear and despair are replaced with love and hope in the one who is in control regardless of God's answer to our prayers for Will. Whether his cancer remains 'incurable' or not, Will's faith, voice, and spirit remain 'incurable.'
Easter is a big deal!
Go to www.goteamgray.com to see more of Will's story!