No Greater Gift
I was the only child of a Secretary and a Carpenter. My father had found himself in financial difficulty time and time again, and the disappointment had led him to drink and gamble excessively. Growing up money was always tight and treats or surprises of any sort a rarity. You can imagine then, the excitement and expectation I had three times a year when I would receive a gift.
My birthday, Christmas and Easter. Those were the precious annual occasions I was guaranteed a special gift that was entirely my own.
While I loved birthdays and Christmas, Easter held a special allure for me as the supermarket aisles turned into a dazzling rainbow of shimmering wrappers. I would beg my mother for the largest box of treats I could see and run my small hands along each shelf hoping just a hint of chocolate would grace my fingers.
I remember this time so fondly. Yet now I am a parent of three small boys myself, those very aisles brimming with brightly coloured eggs fill me with dread.
I made the mistake last week of steering our trolley past a blinding tower of rabbit shaped sweets. The inevitable ensued.
“Mom. Mom. Mom! Please can we have one of those,” they all pointed in unison.
My answer was that of a professional, learnt well from my own mother.
“Maybe. You’ll have to wait and see come Easter.”
“But Mom…” oh boy, here we go I thought. The battle of their will and my wallet is on. “What does a Rabbit have to do with Easter?” said my seven-year-old quizzically.
I was surprised, but quickly took the opportunity to have the important conversation.
“I don’t know baby. What do you think?” I responded.
“Maybe there were bunnies in the field near the cross when Jesus died?” he pondered.
“Or maybe they helped Jesus roll the stone away when He came back to life?” said his twin brother enthusiastically.
What followed was a wonderful dialogue between my children about the part a fictional rabbit could have played in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The world had tried to persuade them away from the truth and sacrifice of the season, but they weren’t going to be fooled. They knew Jesus was the hero of this story.
I didn’t have the same maturity or access to such priceless revelation at their age. My father was a staunch atheist. He argued about religion a lot. In fact, he argued a lot about most things.
He was of Slavic decent, had relocated from Eastern Europe as a child after the Second World War, and lost his father suddenly at the age of thirteen. He lived a hard life, full of confusion, frustration, and addiction, and his pain became that of both my mother and I.
At twenty years of age I met the man who would become my husband, and together we stumbled one Sunday morning into a relationship with Jesus. My mother soon followed in reigniting her faith, which she had been forced to hide for many years. She left my father, and we all grew in a deep and powerful revelation of Jesus Christ, experiencing a freedom we did not know was possible.
As our lives began to blossom and we were each filled with a hopefulness, compassion, generosity and joy despite our circumstances, my father started to pay attention. And as we boldly stepped out into new and unexpected opportunities, his religious rants quieted.
In 2014, as he was slowly beginning to ask genuine questions of faith, curbing his drinking habits and trying hard to restore relationships, the unthinkable happened. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The news was devastating yet it was this very illness that would finally draw him into a life-saving friendship with Jesus.
He found the acceptance he had been long striving for when he began faithfully attending a local church. He found the Father he so desired in God, who promised never to leave him, nor forsake him. He found belonging, he found forgiveness, he found answers, he found peace.
He died this time two years ago with a smile on his thin face. He’d gone home. At his funeral he insisted we play the song Amazing Grace, for he said God had truly saved a wretch like him, loosening his chains, opening his blind eyes and setting him free.
This is Easter to me. This is the beauty of the cross, unrivalled by any other religion or worldly gain. It is Jesus, arms stretched wide, separating our weakness, failures, short-comings and insecurities as far as the East is from the West. It is God, made as man, scorned, beaten, despised, bearing the weight of our sin on a cross of humiliation, so that we might be free.
Jesus’ painful sacrifice made a way for my father, a man full of mistakes and misgivings, to enter into the courts of heaven for a life of eternal rest. How sad his life would have been if he ended it with no hope nor reconciliation. And how glorious it could have been, if he hadn’t waited so long to find Christ.
I can’t change my father’s story, but you can change yours.
Open your heart, seek out and unwrap the real gift of Easter, and stretch your arms wide to Jesus. He’s waiting for you.