I believe in the Easter bunny.
No, not the hopped up and over-marketed Easter bunny, but the real one. When I was a little kid, I once woke up very early on Easter.
I was up before the people going to Easter Sunrise. I was looking for the Easter basket. Ok, I was looking for chocolate. I searched the house in darkness, and found nothing.
Nada. Zero. No basket. No eggs. No chocolate.
I was traumatized. My tears woke up my parents.
They took me into their room, and there was a pale green dump truck filled with chocolate.
Stupid bunny! The bunny had delivered the eggs to the wrong room.
I was traumatized enough, however, to believe it was not the bunny at all but my parents. Whoever heard of an Easter bunny giving dump trucks! But as we opened the curtains to the backyard, there was the bunny!
The Easter bunny just stared at me. It was brown, wild, in no rush to leave, fearless and waiting there to reassure a tearful little kid.
I believe in Easter bunnies, but not for Easter. Easter bunnies are too cute for Easter. Even if they are cranky or grumpy, bunnies are still warm and fuzzy and too entertaining.
We have grown up with Bugs Bunny, the Energizer Bunny and even the Playboy Bunny. Each of these bunnies conjures its own meanings, but none of these bunnies ever conjures hopelessness, evil and despair.
Easter always begins at night. The first Easter began in sadness, fear and soul-crushing grief. It wasn't supposed to end this way.
He had been arrested at night, then beaten, tortured, mocked and executed by being nailed to a cross.
It wasn't right or just. It wasn't fair.
But there was no last minute pardon, nor even a heavenly rescue. No one saved him. Even his closest friends betrayed him. It was a brutal, ugly ending to the one who was supposed to save us all.
On the morning after the Sabbath, the women were first in line to go out the gate when it opened just before dawn. They walked by torchlight down the road toward the unmarked grave. They hung to the shadows and walked in fear that someone would recognize them as his friends.
They walked in grief. They went to anoint his body with oils and tears. There would be no wild bunny to reassure them when the grave stone was rolled away.
He was dead. He was gone. It was the end of the story.
What they found was strong enough to turn every tear into a hymn of joy. What they found was forceful enough to change us all into believing that death is not the end of our loved one's story, but only the end of a chapter.
What they found was a force of love so irrepressible that all the forces of evil, injustice, decay and destruction cannot prevail against it. What they found was so unpredictable, so wildly impossible that still to this day we have cute bunnies deliver chocolate eggs to remember the day.
They found Easter.
They found the tomb almost empty; the grave clothes left behind. They found the grave stone was rolled away, jammed open, and marked "exit only." They found angels telling them that they should no longer look for the living among the dead, and he would meet them at their house.
They found Jesus, the Risen Christ. We will meet him this year at sunrise, or in church, or when we pull open the curtains.
MARK WILEY is the pastor at Mesa Verde United Methodist Church in Costa Mesa.