The most tremendous of all earthly events took place almost 2000 years ago when Jesus of Nazareth, put to death by the cruel power of Rome, rose from His tomb and appeared again to His sorrowing followers. With their despair turned to joy, they were inspired to carry His spirit and His teachings to the ends of the earth.
That was the first and greatest Easter experience. But Easter experiences have been happening ever since. They happen every day. They can happen to me and they can happen to you.
Sometimes they are small, gentle moments of reawakening. It is no accident, I’m sure, that Easter comes in the radiant season of rebirth after the bleakness of winter. Each year I walk around my farm on Quaker Hill in Pawling, New York, and thrill to the sound of returning birds. I find myself tingling to the touch of the warm sun and the odor of new young grass.
I marvel at the thought that no one but God knows the process that makes the grass so green. I meditate on the miraculous profusion of spring flowers in their infinite form and color and variety. When I think of old friends and become aware of wonderful qualities I never appreciated before, they too seem to blossom out in a personal springtime.
The Easter experience can also happen to people who are discouraged or defeated, who are groping their way through life burdened by problems and only half-alive, who have lost their sense of wonder, their capacity to be deeply moved, their ability to love and hope and dream.
Time and again I have seen the power of the risen Lord reach out and enfold and awaken such people—people entombed by the power of alcohol or drugs, people enslaved by immorality, people who suffer from lost love, lost faith, lost hope—who then rebound, victorious and whole, from their dark night of the soul. When that happens, when the spirit of Easter really touches them, they too come back from the dead.
But the deepest message of Easter now is, and always has been, the promise that this life here on earth is only a beginning for all of us, that the here and the hereafter are merely different aspects of the same thing. “Because I live,” said Jesus, “ye shall live also.” (John 14:19) I take that tremendous promise to mean that eternity does not begin with death; we are living in it now. Death is but a change; a change for the better, that’s all.
This Easter message can reach the human heart in many ways. Not long ago Inez Lowdermilk, wife of the famous conservationist Dr. Walter C. Lowdermilk, shared such an experience with us here at Guideposts. She told how over 40 years ago her husband came upon three yucca plants that had been uprooted and left by bulldozers alongside a new mountain road. He brought them home and rooted them in his Berkeley, California, rock garden.
Within a couple of years, Mrs. Lowdermilk said, two of the yuccas bloomed and died according to their normal life cycle. The other plant did nothing but sit in the rock garden, protected by its circle of needlelike spears.
Walter Lowdermilk went on to become an international authority on forestry, and soil and water conservation, especially famous for his plan for the useful distribution of the waters of the Jordan River in the Holy Land. Last spring he became ill, and one day, 42 years after the rescue of the uprooted yucca plants, his doctor told the family that Waiter’s life was coming to a close.
Soon after, a stalk appeared above the spiny base of the long-dormant yucca. It continued to grow as Waiter’s life ebbed away. Everyone who entered the house watched the stalk grow almost a foot a day until it was over 15 feet tall. On the day that Walter died, it burst into magnificent blossoms, a glorious natural candle made of hundreds of little branches dripping with masses of small ivory-colored bells. The beauty of this masterpiece of nature continued for an entire month.
What does this lovely and gentle story have to say to us? We are here on earth for a short time. God wants us to accept His plan for our lives, to develop our talents and make the fullest, most selfless, most constructive use of them. And finally, when our work here is done, we will be taken home, like the yucca that waited until the time was ripe—and then burst into glorious bloom.