“He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart.” Psalm 107:14 [ESV]
We haven’t used the girls’ childhood Easter baskets since Sarah left. I asked Katelyn, Kristen and Sophie last year if they wanted to use them and they said they didn’t care. I chose to believe them and to use gift bags instead to spare my heart from the sting of having to create another option for Sarah’s basket. Saturday night as I was preparing Easter gift bags for them I went to the basement to get tissue paper, carefully counting out two sheets for each bag. When I got back upstairs to complete the bags, I realized I had eight sheets. I had once again subconsciously reverted to counting in multiples of four instead of only three. The realization brought with it a tidal wave of grief.
This is our second Easter without Sarah. 22 months without her. To be exact, Easter Sunday made 683 days. And yet my heart still struggles to fully grasp that she is not and will not be here.
As we walked into church Easter morning someone looked at us and kindly commented on the “beautiful ladies.” I was instantly transported back to every Easter before Sarah left, vividly remembering the joy of walking in and hearing all the sweet compliments about “all the Harmening ladies.” As we walked further we began seeing all of the families reunited and complete to celebrate and worship together. I didn’t even make it to the pew before the tears spilled out.
The atmosphere of worship was rightly celebratory, but in the midst of the celebration my spirit was groaning within me. I struggled the entire service to contain the tears, for the most part to no avail. At first I felt guilt for my inability to stifle the deep sorrow that was involuntarily bubbling out. I am inexpressibly grateful for and fervently cling to the tremendous Hope I have because of Easter Sunday. I wanted to joyfully celebrate it in those moments, but instead my spirit was longing for something more.
Christ arose and His resurrection and the fact that He lives are absolutely the source of my Hope, but it is not where my Hope is fixed. My Hope is fixed on what is yet to be because He lives, a beautiful dawning yet to come. My hope is fixed “fully on the grace that will be brought to [all who believe] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:13). My Hope is fixed on His imminent return, on the day that “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and [we] will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall” (Mal 4:2). My spirit groans for the day when “God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev 21:4).
Christ’s resurrection powerfully transforms this life through the Hope of the next. If we somehow view the resurrection only in terms of its impact on this present life apart from eternity we are missing the greatest blessing. “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). It is the eternal impact of the resurrection that we celebrate. Because Christ secured eternity for those who believe, we are able to say with Paul, “we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
Until Christ returns I will celebrate Easter in the shadow of death. For the remainder of this temporal life I will treasure memories of precious past Easters with our complete family, while simultaneously bearing the persisting painful sting of my child’s daily absence. Death was defeated at the resurrection but it has yet to be destroyed, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). So each day and every Easter I will celebrate the resurrection morning of my Lord, but to an equal or greater degree I will groan with longing for the dawn yet to come “when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, [and] then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).