When I Stood at Her Grave
by Loren Lewis
It’s that time of year where store fronts are decorated with eggs, chickens, and bunnies. Mothers are frantically making sure they have their children’s basket full of chocolate rabbits and robin eggs. Families might choose to go to church for the first time in months. Children will search for colorful eggs and eat too much candy. And the day will pass and lives will continue as normal.
Easter is just a day of remembrance. We remember Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. We sing beautiful songs and the day is done. It is just a day on the calendar.
That is what Easter was for me. Until 12 years ago. Until the day I stood looking into her grave, that Easter became so much more than a day.
It was the Thursday before Easter weekend in 2007. I was preparing with my family for a fun weekend celebrating with extended family. My sister, Danaea, was coming home from college to spend the weekend with us. Keeping my sixteen year old cool, I did not show how excited I was to have my sister back home. We weren’t especially close when she lived at home, but when she went off to college, our relationship had deepened and I was ready to have her back with our family.
My parents and I were at home that night waiting for Danaea to arrive in the next hour or so when our doorbell rung. Instead of my sister, there was a police officer. It was one of the those moments that time literally slowed down and that moment feels as real now as it did 12 years ago. As the police officer described to my father that my sister has been killed in a fatal car accident, a piece of my heart died.
In that moment, death became real. Curled up against our dryer in our laundry room, I couldn’t even cry. I did not know this feeling, I never had been touched by death. The grief that consumed me over the next days, weeks, months, years was so very painful. In that moment, I was cast into an only child role that I never wanted to claim. In that moment, I was robbed of that special bond siblings share as your parents age. I was robbed of the special moments of engagements, weddings, holidays, and birthdays. My sister is only someone that dwells in old photos at my parent house for my spouse and children. That moment destroyed so many expectations and in that moment, I was changed.
As Easter came that following Sunday, it seemed cruel that this holiday would be forever marred for my family. However, what followed was so different than I could have ever expected.
Easter became so much more than a day.
As I stood looking into the cold, open grave that would hold my sister, the feelings of anger, frustration, despair, disappointment, didn’t disappear, but what joined them was joy. That’s right, joy.
Now, it’s important to understand there is LARGE difference between happiness and joy. James writes:
“2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”- James 1:2-4
Joy is a choice. It is a state of mind. Happiness is a fleeting emotion.
Here is the amazing thing about Jesus. Because of his great love and sacrifice and I can literally stare into the face of death and choose joy, for my Jesus has already conquered death. My sister is resting in his arms and I will see her again.
I believe when James asks us to consider our trials as our joy, he is not asking us to turn off the very emotions that makes us human, but to view our trials with eternal perspective. In those dark moments, when the world is caving in, we can choose joy knowing that we live in a conquered world. We know how the story ends…with Jesus victorious.
Easter is not just a day for me. It is the reason I can breathe, smile, and laugh. I stand scarred, but not broken. I grieve, but I do not despair. Death did not win thousands of years ago; it did not win 12 years ago.
Jesus stood with me watching the tears roll down my face and as I stood at her grave, I experienced Joy.