Here is a true Easter story about a bunny and a biplane.
The year was 1971. I was living in the boarding school affiliated with Notre Dame Academy (now NDCL) in Chardon, Ohio. I lived with Sister Joanne (then Sister St. Colette) and twelve 16-year-old girls in a beautiful spacious house called Nazareth, situated on our vast provincial center property. It was April 11. It was also Easter Sunday. And it was my brother John’s 30th birthday.
John owned a fabricating shop. He had recently married Mary. They lived in Chardon with her 5-year-old son, Tony. In his spare time John liked to fly. In fact, he and several of his buddies pooled their money and bought a plane together. It was a biplane, a 1941 blue and yellow Stearman. Open cockpit. John flew over our provincial center property sometimes. I could always tell when it was him even before I spotted the plane, because the Stearman made a distinctive sound–kind of a putt-putt-putt. When I heard it, most of the time I would run outside and wave to him. When he spotted me on the ground, he would tip his wings to me. What a feeling of connectedness that was. Every single time.
On this particular Easter I called John that morning to wish him a happy birthday. We chatted for a few minutes. Then he asked, “Are you going to be home this afternoon?” Yes, I said. I told him I would be at Nazareth. He said, “Good. I’ll fly over today. It’s Easter and I hear there are bunnies everywhere!” At that time, I didn’t know what he meant.
But sure enough, about 2:00, I heard the familiar putt-putt-putt of the biplane. I ran outside and saw John flying fairly low. I waved to him. He tipped his wings. Then I saw him, in the back seat of the plane, raise his giant arm up in the air. A moment later I saw a tiny parachute fluttering to the ground. Excited, I ran to the field where it was headed. When I got there, I saw it on the ground—a small blue stuffed bunny hitched to a parachute made out of a kitchen towel. I picked it up and waved it in the air so John would see that I had retrieved it. John tipped his wings again and then flew slowly away.
Later I called John to thank him for the Easter surprise. He told me the bunny was Tony’s, but Tony said I could have it. Mary gave John the kitchen towel for the parachute. He told me it wasn’t easy to drop the bunny. He had to take into consideration the wind, his altitude, and the speed of the plane. Otherwise the bunny could have landed in the top of a tree somewhere in the middle of the woods! But it landed in the middle of the open field in front of Nazareth–exactly where he wanted it to land.
Why am I telling you this story today? Well, besides occurring on Easter, the story has a definite Easter theme. When I think of Easter I think of three words: surprise, joy, and love. Jesus’ resurrection was a surprise. For everyone. Even for his closest friends. His appearance brought immense joy to everyone who encountered him (after they got over their initial shock and disbelief). And finally, Easter is above all a love story. The Father’s love for Jesus. Jesus’ love for Abba. Jesus’ love for all of us. In rising from the dead, Jesus, through the power of his love, takes all of us with him! One day we too will rise with him. We are connected to him. Forever!
My little story (on a smaller scale) is an Easter story too. I had expected my brother simply to fly over. Waving to him and having him tip his wings would have been gift enough for me. But he surprised me with more: a parachuting bunny! A gift fashioned with his skill, time, and creativity. And what joy that gift gave to me. A joy I relive every time I recount the story. Though John is gone seven years now, the story celebrates our connectedness, a connectedness we still share even though he is “up in the heavens now” and I am still journeying down here on earth. That connectedness is love. And thanks to that first Easter, love, even after death, goes on forever!
I wish each of you a very joyful, love-filled, and surprise-filled Easter!
Suggestion: do something really nice for someone this week. Surprise them!