An Easter Reflection
In February the season of Lent began. Neither Isabelle nor I grew up in a liturgical tradition, but since being in Atlanta have found a home within an Anglican congregation. Observing the church calendar in general and a season like Lent in particular has helped our faith feel more full with every passing year. This year was no exception, only in a different way.
Only a few weeks before, we found out we were having a baby. Something we hoped for, prayed for, longed for was finally happening. Since one of our pastors would often say that we fast so that we learn to feast, we wondered how the season we were now in would translate to the season of Lent as we anticipated Easter. But no sooner than Lent began did we lose the baby.
Writing that last sentence is painful, even still. It feels strange as a man to try to wrap words around a loss I didn’t physically feel, pain I didn’t endure, the vulnerability of laying on a table for a doctor to confirm a loss rather than find a heartbeat. And it’s painful as a husband to watch the person you love most in the world experience the most pain they ever have; to feel helpless, only able to hold their hand through it all, only able to be present; to try to know when to comfort and when to give space when hearing them weeping in the next room on any given day that would follow.
For the rest of the Lenten season we navigated through the loss with our family and friends. Together we learned to be sensitive and respectful to the ways we were both processing through it differently. As with all pain, some days were harder than others.
Holy Week came—the week before Easter—and we attended our church’s Good Friday service. The songs we sang and the readings we heard felt stale, but Isabelle cried through it all. When the service ended we left quietly in the night, meditating on Christ’s sacrifice and imagining the sorrowful aftermath for those who bore witness.
The next day, Holy Saturday, we joined some of our friends in fasting for the day. Late that night we gathered in a friend’s living room for an Easter Vigil—about 30 of us—young singles and young couples, older couples and young parents, children of different ages. We sat in darkness, the room filled only by candlelight, and sang songs of worship and took turns reading different passages of scripture. We prayed, we sat in silence. The hour passed and it was now midnight, Easter.
We broke the fast by taking communion, passing the bread and wine to the person sitting next to us. Then, we feasted. Some had wine and some had beer; some had brownies and cookies, and some had deviled eggs. But everyone celebrated. Eventually everyone departed, each to their own home, with food and drink in their bellies, off to bed with the anticipation of the morning.
After a few hours of sleep, I rose slowly and rolled over in bed to notice Isabelle wasn’t there. I walked out of our bedroom and into the living room, and found her sitting on the couch reading, with a hot cup of coffee in her hand and our dog laying next to her, his head in her lap. I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat in an armchair across from her. Blowing slowly into the cup, I took a sip.
“How long have you been awake?” I asked. “A while,” she said, “I couldn’t sleep.”
She had spent the night tossing and turning, she told me, and at times was wide awake crying. Crying because of the miscarriage, crying because she was so moved by the Vigil, crying because she felt hope.
“In all my years being a Christian and celebrating Easter,” she went on, “I’ve never experienced a feeling like this. For the first time, I feel like I finally ‘got’ Lent.”
Then Isabelle told me about a moment she had somewhere between sleeping and waking, in which she imagined she was standing in our dining room holding a little girl in her arms, no more than two years old, whose little legs dangled as Isabelle swayed her from side to side.
Tears rolled down my cheeks. “It’ll come,” I said. And we sat there, in the quiet of the morning, the imminent sunlight creeping through our blinds, threatening to crash the room.
I was—am—proud of Isabelle. She could feel angry, cheated, or victimized and few could blame her. Instead she chose to hope. Not that that erases the pain; on the contrary, the pain is still acknowledged but with the expectation that something better is coming.
After the service that morning we joined our friends for a celebration in one of their homes. We feasted on an assortment of homemade dishes, the strongest margaritas I’ve ever had, and were witnesses to some of our closest friends announce their pregnancy. We cheered and clanked our glasses and filled our plates with seconds.
In that moment I was reminded that God isn’t confined to the places the world might expect—a cross, a tomb, even a church building. Rather, he shows up in the garden, among friends, in an empty womb, in the chips and salsa, in our jobs and our neighborhoods.
So, yes, this is why we fast: so that we can feast. And what we are feasting on is, though among other things, chiefly hope. It is the hope that life will be wrought from where there is none. It is the hope that life will be restored where it has been lost. It is the hope that the life that is will be made more whole and complete, that all injustices will be made right, that every tear will be wiped away. That we will learn to take up our mats and walk. That death doesn’t have the final word.
We hope that these things and much more will happen, and we trust that they actually will.