The little boy wakes up on a spring morning, knowing that there is something he needs to remember, something very important. Sun shines through the window wells into his basement bedroom. Realizations sink in as his mind deserts his dreams: it is morning; it is Sunday; it is Easter.
The last launches him to his feet. He scrambles into sweats and a t-shirt, scurries through the door and up the stairs. His bare feet trip over themselves. His parents are drinking coffee, reading the paper at the small kitchen table. When they see him they smile.
“Can I?” he asks, looking discreetly around the room.
“First, go get your sisters,” his father says, chuckling. The boy runs back the hall and into the girls’ room, shaking them.
“Wake up!” he begs. “Wake up! It’s Easter!”
Soon three children scour the house. Their quest? Find the candy-laden baskets hidden by their father – over the years they discovered his typical hiding places: inside the oven, on top of the refrigerator, behind the television, inside the clothes hamper.
Eventually all three children find their baskets, wrapped in plastic, stuffed with fake green plastic strings that looked nothing like grass. Chocolate eggs, pixie sticks, marshmallow peeps: sugar coursed through their veins.
Easter morning: a Sunday School teacher’s worst nightmare.
* * * * *
On Fridays I work at my mom’s candy store. Her inventory includes all of my greatest weaknesses: Swedish Fish, Sour Patch Kids and grape licorice. In these weeks leading up to Easter her store looks as though someone attacked it with grenades that explode nothing but pastel colors. Candy-coated eggs and jelly beans of every flavor are stacked in containers nearly to the ceiling.
This past Friday I looked through some of her new items. There is a three-foot tall milk chocolate bunny for sale, weighing in at over 18 pounds. There are small items that look like deviled eggs, but are actually made of white chocolate. As I looked through these new items, something made me stop and kind of tilt my head to the side.
A chocolate cross.
* * * * *
The small boy sits in the large church pew beside his grandfather, who smuggles Smarties and butterscotch candies to him during the service. His grandfather wears threadbare suits and smells of KR medicine. A few years later he would die on Easter morning.
At the front of the church, mounted up on the wall, is an empty cross. I say empty, because this is a Protestant church, a charismatic evangelical church, and wherever there is a cross, Jesus is for sure no where near it. The auditorium has a stained wood ceiling. The boy often puts the bony part of his head back against the pew, stares at the ceiling, counts the wooden lines.
But on Easter morning he stares at the cross. Empty. A miracle.
* * * * *
A chocolate cross. This seemed so out of place to me, lying amongst the chocolate toys and content-looking chocolate bunnies and white-chocolate deviled eggs. A centuries-old instrument of torture and degredation that led to the death of who some claimed was God’s son and would eventually be seen, by many, as the means of humanity’s redemption…now a small treat, available in milk or dark, weighing less than a pound.
* * * * *
We want everything to be sweet, to go down easily with a glass of cold milk, but be careful.
Be careful that you do not transform the difficult truths you have learned into easy to digest chocolate trinkets. Sometimes the bitterness of death must be fully experienced in order for the full power of resurrection and redemption to occur.
This Easter, whether you are a Christian or an Atheist, a Buddhist or a Muslim, I have something for you to consider: stop denying the pain that death has caused in your life. Stop looking past the broken relationships, the unmet expectations, the abuse. See it for what it is: not a piece of candy, but the darkest valley through which you have ever passed.
And, finally, pass through it.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.