“He is risen”

“Did you hear the news?”

My brother and I have been exchanging the same series of text messages on Easter Sunday for more than a decade. My memory is foggy now, but I think the tradition started as a phone call. We’d both race to be the first one to call the other, and then as soon as the line connected, race to be the first to ask the other if they’d heard the news.

Like many inside jokes and obscure rituals among people who have lifelong friendships, the origin of the Easter exchange is a mystery. However it began, it remains an enduring symbol of the special bond we share as siblings, the unique sense of humor that has always connected us, and a lifetime of shared experiences that shape who we are.

Growing up, Easter was one of my favorite celebrations. My parents were both raised in the church and my grandfather was a Presbyterian minister. Despite their rich connections to the Christian faith, we never attended church regularly. Our collective values were shaped by the Christian lessons of my parents’ childhood, even if we only showed up to formally worship on the “important” Christian holidays.

Among my most vivid recollections of Easter are those of Sunrise service on the big, open, lawn of the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian church.  I loved the smell of the meticulously manicured landscape – freshly cut grass and impeccably well-kept flowers, bushes and trees. I loved the sensation of my body warming from almost too-cold-to-stand-it, to comfortably relieved by the bright sun creeping up over the horizon, washing my face in just enough light to remove the chill.

I’ve thought a lot this week about Easter morning. About the bright colors in the dresses lining the pews and the blossoms of Spring’s bounty lining the crowded sidewalks outside the church. I’ve thought about the story of the resurrection in the bible, and what it means to people of faith. I’ve thought about how it felt to come to life in my body as the sun fought through the darkness of the pre-dawn morning, bringing the whole world into light.

The thing about the texts with my brother is that he himself is a miraculous story of second coming.

In ways and times, some that I can’t even remember now, I’ve lost him and gotten him back again.

His story, in its truth and facts, and especially how my lived experience and adult identity have been shaped by them, reminds me that both love and spirit are unassailable. It reminds me that the darkest, most unbearable pain can sometimes give way to immeasurable joy and gratitude. It reminds me that even a glimmer of hope and waning patience can sometimes triumph over consistent disappointment and long periods of despair. It reminds me that redemption, recovery, and even resurrection, are made possible by both spiritual belief  and personal conviction.

Whether you believe the stories of the bible as written truth, or, as I do, a mythical collection that helps us understand and make meaning out of the sometimes heartbreaking complexity and inexplicable tragedy of being human, the lesson of the resurrection is the same. It teaches us about hope and resilience. It calls to mind the power of faith and truth. It helps us endure the barely tolerable chill of darkness, while we wait for the warmth of the sun to reemerge.

My favorite chapters of my brother’s story are just now being written. They are filled with the heart-opening love I have for my nephews, his sons, and the over-flowing gratitude I feel in their presence. My nephews are the incarnation of my brother’s resurrection, and an expression of the deepest joy of his life. They have his spirit, his humor, and his relentless determination- their lives made possible by his courage, his ability, his willingness to rise again.

I woke up already missing the day we would have spent together. The morning is cloudy and cold, my mood, damp and uneasy. I’m feeling the weight of an Easter without my brother and his sweet boys. But, as I’m writing, my body softens, the sun starts to burn through the clouds, and I notice a text back from my brother:

“He is risen.”

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