Belated Reflections On Easter and Unexpected Holy Moments
For those who view the yearly calendar through the lens of Christianity, the weekend that starts on Good Friday and ends on Easter Sunday holds undisputed honor in the hierarchy of holiness. On this weekend in history God incarnate yielded to the harshest of human deaths—and then miraculously undid it. Undid death! Overpowered it!
This holiest of weekends is indeed worthy of candles, flowers, musical extravaganzas and prayerfully prepared sermons. Two weeks ago at my church, the carefully crafted services moved many people—including me—toward a deeper surrender to the ongoing power of death and resurrection.
But as I think back on that weekend, the sanctified pageantry—powerful and moving as it was—is overshadowed by two simple and unexpected moments.
On Saturday following Good Friday my daughter, Shauna, helped officiate a hastily scheduled wedding. The father of the bride had been battling cancer; his oncologist told him that if he wanted to see his daughter married, the scheduled summer wedding would be too late. Hence, this unexpected Easter wedding.
Before the service, Shauna sat with the father, holding his hand while he told her his own Easter story: Almost thirty years earlier he’d given his life to Jesus. For the next fifteen years he attended church alone; then, finally, his wife joined him and she too met Jesus. Later his kids came to faith, and now he was about to welcome a Jesus-following son-in-law to the family.
After that conversation, the father walked his daughter down the aisle, slowly and with great effort. Then he reached up and placed both hands on her cheeks. In a frail voice, he spoke words that only she could hear.
During the ceremony, when Shauna addressed the young couple, she acknowledged the pain of the situation. “This day of your wedding,” she said, “is tucked between the lament of Good Friday and the celebration of Easter, and is a poignant reflection of what your family is experiencing. You are beginning your marriage in a remarkably tender place, holding in one hand the sorrow of impending loss, and in the other the joy of a new beginning.” That evening, Shauna wept as she told me about the ceremony.
Less than twenty-four hours later, while Easter Sunday celebrations continued in churches throughout the world, I sat in the emergency room of a local hospital by the side of a woman who had been severely injured in an auto accident. It was obvious she was in excruciating pain, so I didn’t try to talk to her, but she nodded approval when I asked if I could pray for her. I put my hand on her shoulder and started praying. I said a few words out loud, but mostly I prayed silently, eyes closed, asking for her pain to be eased. Her brother and several other men in the room moved to a corner and left us alone. I felt her body relax so I continued praying. Eventually, when she seemed comfortable, I opened my eyes. We chatted quietly until medical personnel moved her to the ambulance.
I’d never met that woman before. I went to the hospital because she had attended my church for years; though I didn’t know her personally, I felt drawn to be there “as the pastor’s wife.”
Though Shauna knew the young woman getting married, she hadn’t been asked to officiate her summer wedding. However, when Shauna heard about the last minute re-scheduling, she thought perhaps “as the pastor’s daughter” she could help facilitate the event. She offered to help and the family accepted.
Anyone who knows Shauna and me knows we don’t show up every time there’s a need just because we’re the “wife/daughter of the pastor.” In a large church, that would be logistically impossible. Even more to the point, in a church where every member is called to minister on the basis of giftedness rather than on gender or role expectations, we intentionally live according to our calling and passion. We trust that as other people also do that, the body of Christ will function as it should and people will be cared for as they need to be.
But for both Shauna and me, where we felt called on Easter weekend was into the very roles we often avoid. And on that weekend, those roles gave us the privilege of entering into the most profound and tender moments of two families’ lives.
It’s not uncommon to hear complaints about “the expectations placed on pastor’s wives” or “the burden of being a pastor’s kid.” Shauna and I understand those complaints; we’ve expressed them; we’ve even shaped lives that allow us to escape them. But here’s the other side of that story: Pastors and their families have doors of intimacy and soulful connection opened to them that few other people have. On Easter weekend Shauna and I walked through two of those doors. We are still in awe of the holy moments we found.