I must admit that I thought Easter was a day for a long, long time.
It is only relatively recently that I have come to comprehend that it is in fact a season, a stretch of weeks in the church calendar strung between Easter morning and the day of Pentecost during which time the risen Christ appears to disciples and believers and strangers alike.
And not one of them is found rejoicing.
I get it. While I have sung my share of Easter morning alleluias, secretly I mostly didn’t feel them. I would wonder about my apparent lack of joy on this great holy day. Despite my love of God, was my faith insubstantial? Was my devotion superficial? The reality was He is risen! just rushed too quickly past the sorrows I was still bearing from holy week; hands raised in He is risen, indeed! could not touch my broken heart.
It did not soothe Mary’s wailing, even as she sat at the very opening of the empty tomb. Neither did it release the disciples’ fear and disbelief as they shut themselves in behind barred doors. It did not settle the hearts of the pair of arguing believers as they turned their backs on Jerusalem, began their long walk home to Emmaus.
I had finally found my people.
Strewn along that stretch of days between the empty tomb and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all peoples were the heartbroken, confused, exhausted, withdrawn, and grasping-for-faith lovers of Jesus. People whose love and longing had tumbled them shocked and stumbling into the sacred journey that is grief.
And Jesus met them there.
Almost twelve years ago, through a series of unfathomable signs and blessings, God led me from the urban streets of Houston to a house on nine acres of trees (and a pond) in a town of 2,000 persons and at least as many cows, horses, goats, donkeys, and dogs. One of those dogs, a beautiful black lab stray we eventually named Rogue, welcomed us to this new land by dropping a litter of three puppies in the shaded place where the previous owners had stored their tractor. While her two siblings found other homes, the runt of that litter claimed us and ours. We named her Fiona.
In the months and years which followed, Fiona protected our home, oversaw the arrival of the many other strays and rescues and pups which eventually settled into a pack of eight - yes, eight - dogs, and my own development as their human. She was protective and patient, easy-going and steady, and in her dog-is-God-spelled-backwards way over the years she taught me a great deal about how to become those things, too. And over the years, through stunning spring days and astonishing hurricanes, through losses of jobs and relationships and the beginnings of new ones, through lots of life and through kind of a lot of death as well, Fiona was there. With me. No matter what came and went, Fiona met me there.
Until this Tuesday.
In this stretch of days between Easter Sunday and the celebration of Pentecost just around the corner, Fiona’s last day of life with me arrived. When she looked at me with those eyes, letting me know it was time, despite my tearing heart I laid with her on the grass, told her it was ok to go, that I would love her forever. She held my gaze as death came, and I held hers and met death with her there.
And even though I knew she would not live forever, would not be with me forever, I have nonetheless been tumbled, shocked and stumbling, into the sacred journey that is grief. As I empty her half-full water bowl or take my first walk without her, I cry my grief-love along the path. And I try to remember that along with Mary, the disciples, and the heartbroken, confused, exhausted, withdrawn, and grasping-for-faith lovers of Jesus everywhere, I am not alone. I remember Jesus arriving in Mary’s grief, calling her by name: Mary; Jesus arriving in the disciples’ grief: fear not, I am with you; Jesus arriving at the side of Thomas in his grief: here, touch my hand. I remember Fiona's last night full of kisses. Jesus arrives in my grief: love abiding with you always is why I came.
I breathe deeply into the love which abides.
No matter the sorrow, the heartbreak, the loss - wailing on our knees, numb and hiding behind closed doors, or taking our first morning walk without our beloved dog by our side - this is the season for remembering: on the sacred journey that is grief Jesus does not rush our alleluias, he loves us right where we are - and always meets us there.