"At Easter, memories are aroused in me and fill my heart with distant music and with loved ones who have died. 'They climbed the golden stairs,’ as I heard a Black minister say."
Easter and the Empty Places
By Dr. Thomas H. Hicks
[First published in THE EAGLE, April 2011]
In the mist of a greening and revivifying earth we celebrate Easter – our great feast of hope. This year it is an Easter that comes after a fierce winter’s long siege, and we appreciate it all the more. We feel an upsurge of reassurance. The Biblical singer of the Song of Songs (2:11-13) may best express our feelings:
“For, lo, the winter is past, the snow is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth: the time of the singing birds has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land . . . Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come.”
My understanding of Easter has changed significantly over my lifetime. I see Easter differently now, and I hear the Easter stories in a new way.
Now, at Easter, memories are aroused in me and fill my heart with distant music and with loved ones who have died. “They climbed the golden stairs,” as I heard a Black minister say.
I think of the people I knew as a child – my parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts, teachers. As a child, I thought of them as boundless. It never crossed my mind that there ever would come a time when their places would be empty. I still carry on an interior dialogue with them, and probably will for the rest of my life.
And I have the aching sense of so many other empty places – people I loved who were taken from me; loving hearts that my soul held dear, people with whom I identified myself. For me, certain lights were withdrawn from the world. I live in a kind of land of the dead, and it’s lonely.
I also realize that I’m living now in death’s immediate neighborhood. I know I’m temporary and not indispensable. I sense death stealing up softly from behind. Indeed, death, the artist, is slowly putting in his first touches.
Then there are those wonderful Spring dawns that make up the end of the Gospels. The women in the magical first light of day finding the rolled-back stone. Peter and the disciple Jesus loved, silhouetted against the first light smudging the sky over Jerusalem, running back to the tomb, and finding the burial cloths laying neatly on the stone slab.
And later, in the chill of another fragile spring morning, a figure standing on the beach . . . “It is the Lord!” The charcoal fire and that first Easter breakfast on the beach with sunshine creeping over the Sea of Galilee as joy overtakes sorrow.
“Everyone who believes in Me has everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:40
Flesh and blood will rise to eternal life. Our Christian hope is that “we will see one another again.” We will see again those whom we have lost here below. Our bodies are destined for resurrection, when the Father will change our humiliated and corrupted bodies to be conformed to Christ’s glorious body. Vanished faces and voices will return. Death will be vanquished, the graves deserted.
“I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the last day, I shall rise out of the earth. And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see my God . . . This is my hope laid up in my bosom.” – Job 19:25-27
Dr. Thomas H. Hicks, a member of St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull, and Professor Emeritus of Theology and Psychology at Sacred Heart University.