Annie D. Stutley
Apr 15, 2023
So much of Easter focuses on conquering death itself, but overlooking the freedom that the resurrection offers 'this' life, skips a sizable chunk of the miracle.
In my family we knock our Easter eggs. Knocking eggs, egg pocking, or egg paquing is an Easter tradition that came to my part of Louisiana via the Cajuns. The game is pretty simple. It’s man-to-man, egg-to-egg. Players face off, each one with a hard-boiled egg in their fist, and they knock the ends of their eggs together. Whoever’s cracks is the loser. The game keeps going until it’s down to one Champion Egg. We’re unsure of the origins of the first egg knock in my family, but we’ve done it on Easter Sunday as long as anyone can remember. And my father, Pop, held the record not for the highest number of Champion Eggs, but for the most notorious egg pranks.
Among the most infamous was the year he and my uncle dyed one raw egg. Just before dinner, they snuck the trick egg onto one of the egg and candy nests of the dining table's place settings. Unfortunately, they chose the nest of one of Grandma’s special guests, a lady who was wearing an expensive long chiffon dress. When she knocked her egg with her neighbor, the yoke dribbled onto her gown and slithered between the pleats of pastel chiffon. Grandma was furious and promptly marched into the kitchen, grabbed an egg from the fridge, and cracked it over Pop’s head. He didn’t pull that prank again, but while the rest of the family played by the rules, he would use anything–a robin's egg candy, the back of a stainless steel spoon–attempting to fool the rest of us into thinking it was a real hard-boiled egg tucked in his grasp. Of course, we were never fooled, but we laughed with him anyway. He engaged in this buffoonery year after year, the incessant clown he was, and we came to look forward to his mischievousness: “what would Pop use as an ‘egg’ this year?”
So the first Easter without Pop’s shenanigans was one I dreaded.
Egg knocking has been around for centuries and is common in Europe, especially France. Its origins trace all the way back to Ancient Greece, and in the Greek Orthodox church, the eggs are dyed red to symbolize the crucifixion of Christ. The cracking of the shell when the eggs collide symbolizes Christ’s resurrection from death. The egg, then, is a reminder of rebirth–the new life in Heaven that awaits those who believe in Christ. That first Easter without my father was a rather agonizing time in which to grieve. All the talk about life after death, resurrection, and the gates of Heaven opening for a new life, the awaiting of new bodies–that was heavy stuff when my loss was so raw.
My entire life, Heaven had been a no-brainer, a second-nature belief. I went to Catholic school; my parents were part of the charismatic renewal. There was no question Jesus was the Messiah and that he died on the cross for me to have eternal life. But that talk was before I had a horse in the race, a stake in the game, before Heaven absolutely had to exist. That Easter, as I dropped dye tablets into vinegar and water to dye four dozen eggs, everything was at risk because the person who meant everything to me was somewhere out there. For the first time, I had to face where that somewhere is...or isn’t. For Christians, Easter is the holiest day of the year. Doctrine is written around the idea of Jesus taking the sins of mankind and dying with them so that death would no longer be a loss, but a victory. Try taking that in when all you want is to see someone again. It’s either a comfort or an inner trial.
What did I believe after all?
This question consumed me as I approached that Sunday; as I watched my kids tear through their baskets of toys and chocolates; while I listened to my pastor preach about the ultimate miracle and God’s promises; and as I picked up a hard-boiled egg and wished with all my might that Pop was there, tricking me with a walnut or something posing as an egg. Easter is the ultimate miracle–the Great Ta-Da–the promise that something better is waiting. But what about my miracle that I prayed and prayed and prayed for back when I pumped my father with every homeopathic treatment I could find after the doctors gave up? I didn’t get my miracle. How could I not then question everything that once came easy when everything was suddenly so damn hard?
Grief is unquestionably a way to feel proximity to the person we miss. The more I hurt, the more it was as if Pop were near. And as much as grief exhausted me, I couldn’t let go because, and I admit this freely, I didn’t know for sure where Pop was. His death weakened my faith. Boy, would he hate that. But I also think he’d understand, because the mystery of faith is revealed through an entirely personal journey to get to its truth. Faith isn’t a doctrine, a philosophy, simply tossed out and accepted unquestionably...without a little pain even. Countless heroes and “sheroes” in the Bible underwent moments of disbelief, pain, and suffering before reaching their ultimate partnership with God, from Abraham to Esther to Mary to Paul. Abraham doubted God enough to bring about Ishmael when God didn’t produce His promises fast enough; Esther doesn’t even speak of God because she was so distant from Him in her miserable circumstances; Paul fought against God with brutality before his profession of faith; and Mary, sweet, immaculate Mary, was rattled by the news of the baby in her womb enough for Gabriel to say, “Do not be afraid.”
Yet, on the other side of “afraid” was joy. On the other side of waiting was promises. On the other side of feeling abandoned was renewal, and on the other side of sin was forgiveness and life–yes, both eternal and here on Earth.
In the years following that difficult Easter as I was forced to explore my beliefs to find peace, I underwent even bigger trials. Were I to have a book in the Bible, my synopsis would go something like this: “In the midst of a global pandemic, she was diagnosed with stage three cancer. In the midst of debilitating chemotherapy and during the recovery of major surgery, she found her mother’s body in her guest bedroom. She buried her mother while fighting off painful cancer side effects, and had to console her three young children, not just about the fate of their grandmother but her own mortality as well.” Yet on the other side of that story was faith, hope, and a future I don’t doubt anymore. With my life on the line, my resilience shattered, my children looking to me for guidance, it seemed an appropriate time to soften my heart and seek the truth.
So much of Easter focuses on conquering death itself, but overlooking the freedom that the resurrection offers this life, skips a sizable chunk of the miracle. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is basically documentation that Jesus’ sacrifice was meant to empower us here before we go there. “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” (3:16) We’re invited to accept the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, not “when we get to Heaven” but in the here and now. The resurrection gives us long-term hope, but for the short term, Jesus left his spirit to go before us always, an invitation to enter the greatest relationship of all time. The gift of the resurrection is such that we can live without guilt, without fear, without anxiety, without doubt because “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) Heaven is just beyond our fingertips. Once we realize how close we are to the immeasurable joy of it, that leap of faith isn’t so scary after all.
Something as big as life after death deserves introspection, time, and patience. After all, if faith is so easy, why does someone have to die to provoke a conversation about it for so many? If I knew that Easter what I know now, would I have buried my head in my mother’s shoulder and wept as I did after all the eggs were knocked and all the lamb consumed? I’d like to think I wouldn’t have. But I do know I questioned everything because I have experienced unconditional love. Pop hung the moon in my world, and I was the apple of his eye. I know what it means to be positively spoiled with love. I’d rather have loved and hurt from the loss of it than to never have loved at all. And I suppose just saying that was one small step in the bigger journey toward my examination of faith.
The Champion Egg that year went to my oldest son, Billy. Five years later, this year, he had the Champion Egg again. Like Pop, he’s charmingly disorganized, generous beyond measure, artistic, a serial goofball, and he has an inner light that radiates a room. Pop was still with us this Easter, especially when my son’s winning strategy was suspect. Pop was there as we pranked the grandkids with fake eggs. He and Mom were there in each one of us as we sat in comfortable chairs and simply absorbed the scene, a pleasant refresment in hand.
Our loved ones do live on, both here and there, kingdoms at hand. I believe that.
Annie D. Stutley lives and writes in New Orleans, La. She edits several small publications and contributes to various print and online magazines, most noticeably Mississippi Magazine and Worklight. Her blog, "That Time You," was ranked in the Top 100 Blogs by FeedSpot. To read more of her work, go to her website, or follow her at @anniedstutley or Annie D. Stutley-writer on Facebook.