Growing up in Montana, Good Friday was an often snowy, three-hour noontime service, “Seven Last Words From the Cross.” We got the day off from elementary school for such religious things back then. (Yes, I lived in ancient times.)
Impressionable, I’d shed a tear as our Lutheran pastor whispered those first words from the cross: “Father, forgive them...” Midway through the service, Mom usually handed me Kleenex as my teardrops multiplied. We’d sing “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” or “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” I couldn’t imagine such injustice and pain in my pint-sized heart, not ever. By the time the pastor ended our marathon service with Jesus’ almost-last words: “It is finished,” my eyes were puffed up from a waterfall of tears: Jesus, dead. How can this be?
And then we’d drive home and dye Easter eggs.
Easter eggs for Easter Sunday weren’t enough for me as I colored mine with PAAS dye, a wax crayon, and stickers. As usual, I coveted more. In my Montana town we looked forward to a heavily advertised Easter egg hunt. Overnight, organizers would scatter plastic eggs stuffed with candy on lawns, in parks, and outside stores. They never showed up in our neighborhood, but I had hope – just as I had hope in Jesus rising from the dead on Easter Sunday – I had hope I’d live to find such candy-filled Easter eggs on Easter Sunday in my young Montanan lifetime. Kinda like manna from heaven.
One Easter when I was nine years old and Dad was working out of town, Mom roused us kids out of bed for our traditional sunrise Easter service. My brother, sisters, and I grabbed our still-unopened daffodils for pinning to the naked cross of Jesus, staked into the ground outside our church. Sometimes the church people added extra store-bought flowers to brighten the cross, since our shut-tight daffodil stalks looked like sticks – thorns – from a distance: a crazily decorated cross that didn’t look festive at all, but downright depressing.
Our intentions were good.
On this Easter Sunday, as we tumbled into the Chevy and headed for church, I noticed brightly colored ovals near the road. So did my siblings.
“Mom, stop the car!” my brother yelled.
Mom did. We kids jumped out – JACKPOT! – grabbing a handful of Easter eggs outside the local grocery store. Greedy, I broke one open: candy!
Back in the Chevy we resumed the road to church, passing our neighborhood park. JACKPOT! It was littered with Easter eggs! Mom hit the brakes. This time she joined us as we – in our finest Easter best and Easter bonnets – scurried like bunnies, scooping up every Easter egg in sight. It was a mother-lode, orchestrated by my mother.
Across the road from the park was a block of houses, tempting “low-hanging fruit” with their lawns and doorsteps studded with Easter eggs. But… is that a sin? These Easter eggs, “shalt we not eat of them?” Hey Mom, is it stealing? Dear honorable, upright, integrity-filled, Christian Mother, what should we do?
WWJD? What Would Jesus Do? WWJD?
Mom grabbed an egg. So we four kids did, too. House by house, we dashed onto lawns and doorsteps, sweeping up Easter eggs, working up a sweat in the nicest clothes we’d ever wear all year. We didn’t leave a single one. Done.
It is finished.
Disheveled and inexcusably late for church, Mom helped us hurriedly pin our daffodil sticks to Jesus’ cross and creep into the sanctuary where the congregation had long ago finished singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” Sunrise was long gone.
Yet on that day, in that sanctuary – after stealing Easter with my much-too-fun family – I slowly began to believe in miracles: That dawn could welcome the miraculous Easter gift of Jesus rising from the dead; that dawn could welcome such miraculous Easter egg gifts – even if they weren’t exactly on my lawn – into my Montana childhood of want and need.
In this faith of forgiveness, grace, and plenty (no need to hoard or steal), I keep learning that in my wants and yearnings there is always enough – just as Jesus reigns and manna rains from heaven like Easter eggs, filling hungry hearts like mine.