Hallmark Cards is in business to make money. They do it by selling cards and over the years their cards have tended to be the best around. In order to sell cards you have offer your customers what they want. So it says more about us, probably, than about Hallmark when you visit their stores and website looking for an Easter card.
Hallmark is selling 126 different Easter cards this year. When I looked, I initially decided to limit my search to the “faith” category. Of the 126 Easter cards that are available, 15 are “faith” cards, 8 e-cards and 7 paper cards. I looked at them all. I won’t be buying a single one. They aren’t Easter cards, they are “happy ending cards.”
One of the faith cards offers that “Maybe God put Easter in spring to remind us that miraculous things happen when we do nothing more than open ourselves up to him.” What a waste, that death on a cross. If only Jesus had done nothing more than open himself to God.
“Wishing you an Easter filled with little miracles,” says another. A world held captive to the sins of injustice, oppression and war needs more than little miracles. It needs an earth-shaking, sun-darkening, curtain-in-the-Temple-ripping, tomb-emptying miracle.
One of the e-cards prays, “May the blessings of Easter warm your heart.” The disciples who met the risen Jesus on the Road to Emmaus said to one another, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” My heart does not need to be warmed, it needs to be set afire.
Those of you who were in worship at the 8:30 or 11:30 services this past Sunday know that I am marking the tenth anniversary of a cancer diagnosis, my cancer diagnosis. The actual diagnosis was on April 7, 2003, the Monday before Palm Sunday. Surgery to remove the malignancy was on Good Friday, eleven days later. So I use the liturgical calendar to remember those days of anxiety and faith. From the Monday before Palm Sunday until Good Friday we weren’t sure what might happen.
My cancer story is a happy ending story. I can tell it in ways that will warm your heart. I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out.
But as I remember that journey through cancer ten years ago, I also must remember my friend, really an acquaintance around town, Steve, I’ll call him. Steve began the same journey I was to make about two months before I began my journey. The same surgery, the same course of chemotherapy at the same clinic. Steve and I were about the same age; too young to be dealing with cancer. He and I would sometimes cross paths at the cancer clinic during the three or four months that our treatments overlapped.
After chemo I began to feel better and I was well on my way to my happy ending. Not so Steve.
I remember the last time I saw Steve, maybe a year or so after surgery. I was paying for my coffee at the local café and Steve was already at the register. I didn’t recognize him at first. Thin and gray, nothing happy about him. And I broke one of the first rules of pastoral care. “Steve, how are you doing?” I asked. You don’t ask sick people how they are doing.
At first Steve did not even look up to answer my insensitive question. “I am dying of cancer, that’s how I am doing,” he said bitterly. Then he looked up and he granted me the grace of accepting my question for its intent rather than its boorish form. He was kind enough to say more to someone who had been a fellow pilgrim on the same journey. He was attending worship at his church more often those days and his pastor had been gentle and kind, helping him reestablish his relationship with the God he had known in better days.
It was the last time I saw Steve. He died a few weeks later. By Hallmark Card standards, no happy ending. No little springtime miracle. Death. But before he died, and even through his bitterness, Steve had returned home to the God who with wondrous love and amazing grace sent his own son to death to defeat death that we might live.
I said on Sunday that my brush with cancer is about much more than having cheated death ten years ago. It is about staring into that abyss long enough for the eyes of my heart to adjust to the darkness and seeing there, ready had it been the time, the strong and everlasting arms of God.
Lord, do not let me settle for a warm heart or little miracles.
Easter is not about springtime and little miracles. It is about death being swallowed up in victory, its sting lost.
As for Hallmark, I think I’ll go for the card with old prospector on the front. “Know what we call the Easter Bunny out west?” he asks. “Supper,” it says when you look inside. “Have a Rassin’-‘Frassin Easter.”
Better a rassin’-‘frassin Easter than one that can do no more than warm the heart.
See you Sunday – the first day of Holy Week.