We had an old pastor who mounted the pulpit every Christmas carrying the notebook pages on which he had written his first Christmas sermon forty years earlier. I find myself copying him. On Easter I keep telling the story of an Easter that followed a severe winter in Korea.
It was fifty years ago, midway through my eleven years in the town of Yang Yang. With the winter’s severity, the price of rice, fuel oil and fire wood all skyrocketed. Once, longing for company, I phoned another town, inviting Father Connors down. What he said was, “I’ll come, Sully, but only if you guarantee they’ll be tucks of heat.”
Our church was on top of a fifty foot high stump of a hill. Car engines often died trying to climb it. But there was a little boy who climbed up and over our hill every day on his way to school. Often after Mass I’d hang around our office, checking on the little fellow crossing the yard, then disappearing down the other side.
One morning in that endless winter the little boy did something different. He veered over to the edge of our yard, then squatted down. Doubled up with his back pack of books turned skyward he was a fine little bowl of humanity. I kept my eyes on him until he straightened up, and hurried down the hill to his classes.
An hour later when I stepped to the window to catch the arrival of the mailman the puzzle repeated itself. That fellow too sank down at the spot where the little boy had squatted. Pulling a blanket around my shoulders, I went out to check on the attraction. What I saw was a little nub of green like the top of a shoot of asparagus. I asked the mailman what it was, and he said, “Paik hwa gott’chi da.”
“Gott” is the word for a flower, but I had to go in and look up Paik hwa. It is the word for a lily.
What everyone saw in that green nub was the news that the long cold winter was past. A glorious springtime was about to burst out all over. What Easter celebrates is the beginning of our triumph over death.