My brother Vernon had Down syndrome. Vernon loved Jesus with all his heart.
Every year during the weeks and days approaching Easter, Vern would start to get touchy and cranky—“owly,” as our mom would say. He seemed uncharacteristically sad much of the time, and he would talk a lot about the people who hurt Jesus. He would ask about Jesus getting nailed to the cross. Vern seemed to need to process the crucifixion story over and over. He would bring it up repeatedly, often ending with a shake of his head and the comment, “Can’t do that”—Vernon’s phrase of disapproval.
After a few years of this, it occurred to me that maybe Vern thought Jesus was getting tortured and crucified every year—and rising from the dead every year. In case this was true, I did my best to help him understand that the crucifixion happened long ago and that at Easter every year we were simply remembering it. Each year I would try a different approach, doing my best to let Vern know this was not happening right now. I don’t think he ever understood that, and every year, he would be out of sorts before Easter.
But then—Easter. No one I know was happier about Easter than Vernon. Every year on Easter morning, he would get downright giddy, telling everyone, “Jesus is alive!” and “He’s not dead anymore!” One Easter morning on the way to church he giggled and told us, “I saw Jesus this morning! He’s alive!” (Maybe on a TV special?)
Sitting in church that Sunday morning, listening once again to the Easter story from the gospel of Luke, I visualized the angels telling the women that Jesus was no longer in the tomb, that he had risen from the dead. As I pictured the angels calmly imparting this information to the women, I began to wonder: Is that what it looked like? Or were those angels giddy with joy as they shared the news, like Vernon was every Easter morning? The angels sang at his birth; did they also celebrate his resurrection with song? Was there giggling, and were there exclamations among themselves of “Jesus is alive!”? Did “the angels roar for Christ the King”?
Vernon is now living in the presence of Jesus. He no longer frets that the Jesus that he loves is being tortured and crucified. Here on earth, every Easter, I am reminded of Vern’s great Easter joy. And I thank God for my brother’s example.