Hope for Easter

Good Friday arrived two weeks early in our household. And Easter looks to be months away.

My eldest is a high school senior, the class of ’24, that endured an entirely remote freshman year. We were looking forward to her last round of exams, the decision of which college to attend, prom, graduation, and a lot what my daughter’s circle of friends has dubbed the senior sillies. Her friends are an amazing group—the kind that gives all who know them hope for the future—and their laughter delights us whenever they gather.

However, nearly two weeks ago, the ground under their feet shifted and shook the sillies away. A core member of their group—let’s call her Hope—was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. By Easter, her first week of treatment will be in the rearview mirror. Instead of graduation, prom, and a daily dosage of levity, she will spend the next several months alone at Duke University hospital undergoing chemotherapy.

Resurrection Belief in the Face of Trauma

Before this news, our family might have skirted right past Holy Week into Easter. With the excitement of senior year coupled with the prospects of college, we were focused on the new life promises of Easter. Holy Week would have just been a set of services to get through before we proclaim, “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed.”

Now we feel stuck in Holy Week. Each day feels like Good Friday. Trauma like this, even when experienced second hand, raises all sorts of questions. Why Hope? Why now? Why would a loving God allow this to happen to anyone, let alone a 17-year-old with such a bright future? How can we celebrate Easter when unnecessary suffering has crushed the hopes of this group of seniors?

Right now, we’re placing our hope in the medical professionals at Duke who will administer cancer fighting treatments to Hope (as they do for many others). Is this in conflict with hope in Christ? Of course, the two are not mutually exclusively. God regularly uses doctors and modern medicine to deliver on our prayers, no matter where we place our hope.

I know cognitively all the reasons I should put my hope in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the empty tomb. I’ve read my Bible, overcome doubt, and matured in the testimonies of saints’ past and present. I’m particularly aware of the scientists who believe even though we all know the resurrection of Christ is not something that naturally occurs. I’ve written on this theme, leveraging great Christian minds like N.T. Wright and John Lennox.

But according to psychology, in the face of trauma—or any experience that rattles our emotional and spiritual balance— purely rational thought is complicated and emotional imbalance can unravel arguments that previously seemed sensible.

I find myself asking, “Really God?” I know cancer can and does arbitrarily attack anyone, even children—and I know several ways to navigate theodicy—but that doesn’t make it easier to understand why Hope and why now.

Christ’s Body as a Source of Hope

After the shock of learning about Hope’s diagnosis, the only comfort I could offer my daughter was that we—our family—would be there for her. And we would do what we can to support her friends.

We’ve watched how this group of friends leveraged the senior sillies to get through the ups and downs of senior year, especially the college application process. Hope was one of the only ones to get an early acceptance into her top choice while most of the others are still waiting. But with each declination, they gathered providing care and comfort.

Few of them know where they are headed in the fall, but they know precisely where to go for a reassuring word, a warm embrace, and a dose of levity. Not all in this friend group are Christians, but the Body of Christ could learn a thing or two from them about supporting one another through the good and the bad.

This Easter, the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection rings a bit a hollow. Instead, I’m placing hope in Christ’s Body, the church, and the ways it gathers and rises to the occasion to reassure, embrace, and help us carry our burdens.

Barbara Brown Taylor puts it this way: “I actually know people who come to church on Good Friday and who don’t come back on Easter. Easter is too pretty, they say. Easter is too cleaned-up. It is where they hope to live one day… but right now Good Friday is a better match for their souls, with its ruthless truth about the stench of death and the high price of love.”

Part of that ruthless truth is the mental health crisis in our country and its impact on our youth. It is a concern even without a leukemia diagnosis. Growing up, just like every stage of life in the present day, is hard. We need resources to cope and community to make sure we don’t have to go it alone.

Another part of that ruthless truth is that loneliness is an epidemic according to a 2023 U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory report. We are relational beings and, since the forced isolation of the pandemic, we have struggled to maintain the kind of interpersonal relationships that sustain us. The loneliness epidemic feeds the wider mental health crisis and threatens our physical and spiritual health.

The Body of Christ gathered to reassure, to embrace, and to help carry one another’s burdens is one of the best ways for Christians to face these ruthless truths. So, I will gather with my church on Easter morning bringing my Good Friday disposition.

Hours after Hope received the leukemia diagnosis, she attended a school concert to support another member of this friend group. A few days later, they gathered at our house for pizza around a firepit. The mood was heavy, and I did not hear laughter, but still they gathered.

Just a couple days later, Hope checked in to Duke. Technology will be her only connection to these friends for several months now. Thank goodness Hope will not be alone, nor will anyone else in the group, as they manage this weight together while attending to the normal rituals of senior year.

Join me in praying that through the cycle of treatments (or any other means) that Hope beats leukemia. Pray that this group of friends maintains the strength to carry Hope as they also carry one another. Let’s pray for Easter to arrive this summer where they can reunite with Hope and let loose those senior sillies.