For lots of years, my parents hosted the annual Easter gathering for the Pike family. It was quite a turnout.
I’m sure my parents always prayed for good weather, so that the large family wasn’t crammed in our small home. And, I might guess they breathed a sigh of relief when the family was gone, and the last of the dishes had been washed.
With good weather, there were constant Easter egg hunts in the yard. As the cousins aged, basketball and baseball games took place after a tummy stuffer lunch. No one in the Pike family was a slouch around a stove.
I seem to recall in those baseball games that our uncles wore us out. I think they did all the batting, and we did all the chasing and catching of their batted balls.
There will be no gathering of the Pike family this Easter. My sister and her husband Eric who took over hosting this event several years ago cancelled it. COVID-19 forced this change.
We will miss making the trip to Snow Camp, North Carolina where they reside.
Theirs is a beautiful home, a small farm with rolling Piedmont hills, and ever changing views into deep pastures.
I love the quietness found sitting on their front porch. That solitude is occasionally broken by the chatter of birds, the crow of a rooster, the moos of grazing cows, and the restless horses in the barn.
I admire my cousins and our one living uncle for keeping Easter, July Fourth, Thanksgiving, and Christmas as times for the family to gather. And even though, I am an infrequent guest at those events, I hope they never die.
COVID-19 has turned the world upside down.
Over the last several weeks, churches have been scrambling to reinvent themselves by offering Sunday morning worship and other church programming through modern technology. And, I think it is good church leaders have figured this out. I just hope no one blows a technology fuse or hits the wrong switch on all those broadcast on Easter Sunday.
However, I think the real question for churches will be how many are still functioning once the world returns to normal? Any number of churches were already hanging by their fingernails financially. What will churches learn about themselves from COVID-19 will be important in finding a path forward.
I’ll turn 67 in June, and just to be honest with you, I don’t know that I have ever completely understood the Easter story, and at times I feel the same way about Christmas too.
The world was a mess then, just like it is now. And I keep coming back to this question, how could we kill someone who offered so much good? I’m not sure, but I think the answer is grounded in fear.
Fear does a lot to us, maybe more than we realize.
And yet while I may struggle with the Easter story, I still need something to hang on to. Something to get me through each day to help me keep an eye on my fears. And for some unexplained reason, I keep coming back to those guys up in the blue yonder and their teachings.
It is no secret that Pat Conroy is my favorite writer. I am still saddened by his passing.
His book My Losing Season is about Conroy’s basketball playing days at The Citadel. If they were still living, Conroy found and interviewed everyone who had something to do with the basketball program while he was a player.
One interview is unforgettable. It is with Al Kroboth, a player on one of those teams. Mr. Conroy interviews Mr. Kroboth about his time as a prisoner of war (POW) during the Vietnam War.
Al Kroboth was a navigator on a jet fighter plane, the A-6. He and the captain of the plane were on their seventh mission in Vietnam. They were approaching the targeted area to drop their payload.
As Captain Leonard Robertson positioned the plane for this assault, the plane was hit by enemy shelling. Al Kroboth bailed out of the failing plane. Captain Robertson didn’t make it, his name is on the Wall at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington.
When Al Kroboth awoke from the bailing out in a South Vietnam jungle, a Vietcong soldier had an AK-47 pointed at his head. Even with significant injuries, Mr. Kroboth was forced to walk barefooted for three months through all types of terrain to a prison in Hanoi.
Conroy describes in great detail the abuses Mr. Kroboth faced. I have no idea how he survived. Death was always an inch away.
There is lots of crying during the interview with Mr. Kroboth, his wife, and Pat Conroy.
The Christmas bombings of Hanoi in 1972 eventually ended the Vietnam War and brought the release of POWs.
Al Kroboth described the feelings of leaving South Vietnam and arriving at Clark Field in the Philippines. The POWs were concerned about the reception they would receive. But, the POWs were stunned to find ten thousand people to welcome their return.
Mr. Kroboth was the last off the plane. He walked on a red carpet through a crowd of humanity on both sides.
At one point, a young girl up on her father’s shoulders leaned over and handed Mr. Kroboth a note. Scribbled on the note were the following words: “Greater love than this hath no man.” To this day, Mr. Kroboth still has that note.
I think those words from John 15:13 were written to give me a clue about Easter.
This week came the announcement that singer/songwriter, John Prine, had passed away. Mr. Prine’s cause of death was COVID-19. Though I wasn’t a frequent follower of Mr. Prine, I knew he had written quite a treasure of songs about real life, real people, in real situations. Mr. Prine used his artistry with words to weave their stories.
The song “Boundless Love” from his album— The Tree of Forgiveness was written by Mr. Prine along with Dan Auerbach and Pat McLaughlin.
The chorus from “Boundless Love” is also another clue for me about Easter:
Surround me with your boundless love
Confound me with your boundless love
I was drowning in a sea, lost as I could be
When you found me with your boundless love
You dumbfound me with your boundless love
You surround me with your boundless love
Even though Easter 2020 has been turned upside down by COVID-19, we should not be discouraged.
Our clues for moving forward come from that journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. That young man on that journey turned the world upside down too.
Perhaps our pivot point for moving forward is having the courage to dismiss our fears and turn our hearts upside down.
Somewhere in the midst of all those Pike family gatherings love was the catalyst.
Love was somewhere in Al Kroboth’s nightmare.
And as “confounding” and “dumbfounding” as love from the two guys in the wild blue yonder might be, if we want and need their love we will be surrounded by it.
Our challenge is to turn our hearts upside down, and use that courage to surround this upside down world with love.
Those two guys in the wild blue yonder have been waiting a long, long time for us to do it.
I think we can.
Even on the morning of his resurrection, in Matthew 28:10, Jesus said: “ Do not be afraid.”
That should be all the encouragement I need.
Remember—courage minus fear equals love.