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My family followed traditional American Easter traditions, so when I was a child - in addition to preparing for the Sunday morning worship of the resurrected Christ - we anticipated the Easter event by dyeing Easter eggs for the family Easter egg hunt, sending Easter cards, and exchanging little chocolate Easter bunnies. Dad was a dentist and candy was generally discouraged in our house, so chomping down on one of those miniature chocolate Easter bunnies was a rare and unusual treat. (One year my older brother Mark was lucky enough to receive a life-sized chocolate bunny, not a tiny one - but he was permitted to eat only one bunny ear on Easter day.)
Ahh - Easter, a very happy celebration of life.
It wasn’t until years later that I came to know the sad side of Easter.
It came not at once but in a slow accumulation of events - beginning with the death of my brother, Dougie, my buddy, my playmate, my friend - and the realization at age six, that he wasn’t coming back from up there in the sky, that death was permanent. It continued with other tragedies along life’s way: the assassinations of John F., Bobby, and Martin Jr., - their murders marking the end of innocence - grandmother’s funeral, then another grandmother’s funeral, and granddad too. Then my “happily ever after, I do,” was followed after so many years, by the death of my wife - and the subsequent massaging of grief in the lives of my two children who no longer had a mother.
Easter brought no one back, nor did it preserve life from other tragic events.
But neither was it meant to.
After all, Lazarus did at last die - once and for all.
The sad side of Easter is life before Easter, without Easter - life without the hope of Easter-life.
That means the road to Easter cannot be an easy one. Millions of Christians will celebrate Easter this Sunday. But to get there, they must go through Good Friday. And Good Friday is no walk in the park. At least it wasn’t for the One who made it Good Friday. For him it was anything but good. The betrayal, the scourging, the crown of thorns, the leering crowds, the nails piercing his hands and feet, the spear in his side - that’s not exactly a T.G.I.F. day.
Tragic events of life remind us that there is a sad side of Easter. It’s real. And it’s painful.
The recently released film, “Soul Surfer,” depicts that unpleasant truth in the life of surfing champion, Bethany Hamilton, whose left arm was ripped off in a shark attack in 2003, when she was 13 years old. Refusing to give up on her dream of becoming a professional surfer, Bethany learned to surf with one arm and went on to compete successfully.
But she struggled with why it happened; she burned with jealous feelings when she saw beautiful girls with pretty arms; she had to train hard to do what once came easily.
And she worked through it.
“God put me on earth to serve Him, and I know He’s gone through so much worse things. I know that having one arm is the way He uses me. And I’m so happy,” Bethany said in a 2006 interview.
When Bethany spoke of God going through so much worse than she had experienced, I assume she was talking about the suffering of Jesus - something Christians observe this week in what is called Holy Week, which culminates with Jesus’ death on Good Friday.
Good Friday is good only because of the bad that Jesus endured. I like the way cartoonist, Johnny Hart, put it in a poem he has one of his “B.C.” cartoon characters write. Wiley sits under a tree and pens the words:
“When History has recorded it all/Events both happy and sad/Good Friday shall reign as the worst and the best/that mankind has ever had.”
The worst and the best, the very same day, gave way to what Easter is: an invitation to life.
I think Bethany Hamilton would agree. And so would all of Jesus’ followers - at least those who know how the sad side of Easter can lead to its happy side, come Sunday morning.
Editor’s note: You can contact David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., at firstname.lastname@example.org or at his website, davidbwhitlock.com.