Next Sunday, people in the United States will wish Easter felt like it did three years ago. They will put on new shoes and wonder if they should have gotten a half size larger. They will consider going out for pancakes but abandon that plan and search through the plastic grass at the bottom of their children’s Easter baskets for the traditional resurrection breakfast of Cadbury chocolate eggs.
Some of the visitors will get to church before Sunday school is over and take the best seats. They will be blissfully unaware of the members on the pew behind them burning “We-sit-there-every-Sunday” holes in the backs of their Easter bonnets. A few will wonder why we do not sing “Up from the Grave He Arose” anymore.
As they pass the offering plate, they will glance at their watches. When the preacher reads about the broken-hearted women who stumbled to the tomb of the kindest person they had ever known, they will glance at their watches again. As they leave, they will almost ask the minister, “Why is it that every time I come to church you preach on the resurrection?” but think better of it and comment, “The lilies are so pretty.”
They will go to lunch at a restaurant that booked more reservations than it has chairs. When they finally get a table, they will eat too much. On Monday someone will ask, “How was your Easter?” and they will answer, “Better than last year.”
On Easter Sunday, people in Kyiv will wish Easter felt like it did three years ago. They will put on their best clothes and make their way to the 800 churches in the city. Sanctuaries will be decorated with rearranged funeral arrangements. As the preacher reads about the women with tears in their eyes going to the graveyard, everyone there will know exactly what that feels like. They will think about people they have lost. After Russian forces recently withdrew, the bodies of more than 400 civilians were found in and around Kyiv. The count keeps rising.
Some will think about a woman who lived in Bucha, a suburb northwest of Kyiv. Iryna Filkina, 53, raised two daughters who crossed the border into Poland, but Iryna stayed to help. She fed those who were sheltering at a shopping center and cooked for the Ukrainian military. On March 5, Iryna tried to get a seat in one of the cars that was evacuating people from the shopping center, but when there was no room, she decided to ride her bicycle home.
CNN shared chilling drone footage that captures the moment Russian forces killed Iryna. She rounds the corner on her bike and is gunned down. A second video shows her lying next to her bike, dead as Jesus on the cross. Iryna had gotten a cherry red manicure for Valentines’ Day with a heart on one finger. Her hand is visible with the red nail polish and the heart motif on one finger.
“I want the picture of her hand to be a symbol of new beginnings.”
Her daughter Shchyruk said: “I want the picture of her hand to be a symbol of new beginnings. This symbol tells the occupiers they can do anything to us, but they cannot take the main thing — love.”
On Easter Sunday in Kyiv, Christians will think about how long they have prayed for peace, and how abandoned they feel. Some of the ministers no doubt thought about canceling their Easter services. What do you say when death crushes life? But perhaps, for just a moment, during the Ukrainian equivalent of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” they will sing “Made like him, like him we rise … ours the cross, the grave, the skies,” and the light of alleluia will flicker in the devastating darkness.
Easter is not for those whose only worries are that their shoes are too tight or the line at the restaurant is too long. Easter is for those who have been to the cemetery. In Kyiv on Sunday, Christians will share the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection in its pain and glory. The truth of Easter is that the darkness is overwhelming, but no matter how horrible the night, light will come in the morning.
Brett Younger serves as senior minister of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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