The Hope of Easter is still alive

Easter is one of my favorite times of the year. For some it is just another holiday on a yearly calendar. But the truth is that all of our stories are wrapped up in this one event; woven together at the cross. The meaning of Easter is hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it. To recognize it we must first understand brokenness and death in our own lives. Only then can we admit our need for a savior. One that continues to provide hope even today.

If you’ve experienced pain you know healing feels refreshing. Hope does that do you too. Have you ever lived through that refreshing feeling when hope becomes real? I did with my father.

CJ pushed through the church doors, skipped down the steps. The outside air smelled like freedom…

Matt De La Peña, Last Stop on Market Street

The Crosses in my Dad’s hometown

Growing up in Portugal it was common to spend long seasons away from the city and in the country side. Our month-long escapes would take place in a quiet town near the border with Spain. Medelim was too small for many travelers to stop. But for our family it was our second home. My father left the comforts of this small community when he was just 15. He would migrate to the big city in search of a better life with more opportunities. Like him many others would follow. And during the holidays the town would breathe new life when children of old would return.

A small 5-hour car drive was a luxury for us. Many would travel by train and bus taking a full day just to arrive when the night sky started taking over the town. It was around this time that many would experience the Calvary hilltop. An elevated section on the eastern side of town. A little chapel sat on the rocky terrain. Mostly empty. The majority of visitors came for the silence and serenity offered by the beautiful views. You could see for miles in the distance. This will always be my favorite place in Medelim.

In the darkness, the rhythm lifted CJ out of the bus, out of the busy city.

Matt De La Peña, Last Stop on Market Street

I don’t recall how young I was but it was at the Calvary hilltop that I first noticed a cross (how fitting). I didn’t understand the meaning of the name nor why there were 3 crosses until my teenage years. But it was there that I was introduced to my father’s aversion to any symbols associated with the church.

My bus ride confession

I found faith in God in my last year of high school. The missionaries shared Christ through action. They loved me and the youth with purpose. Painting pictures of hope cemented by the story of Easter. Back in Lisbon I had fallen in love with a savior that was real and spoke to me through word and the people he brought to my life. Unfortunately this new reality strained the relationship with my father. To him my faith made no sense.

I found myself confused by my ability to find hope everywhere else but at home. I wanted to share that refreshing feeling I had found but… my father didn’t want to. In his youth he had seen his father belittled by the small town’s priest. I never met my grand-father has he passed away a few years after that incident. For his son there was no hope in the story of Easter.

It was on a crowded bus ride to church that I made my confession. As our youth group shared how much our faith had provided us hope I remember saying very confidently that “My Dad won’t accept Jesus. I just can’t see it happening.” Some of my friends didn’t know how to react. I don’t think I knew how to react either. The first testing of my faith was disguised as someone else’s issue. I just couldn’t imagine my father in a position where he would acknowledge the need for saving in his life. The man that stood strong despite his age seemed invincible. That is until brokenness hit.

Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.

Matt De La Peña, Last Stop on Market Street

The cross in the form of cancer

The years that followed that bus ride were filled with beautiful memories. Those were some of the best years of my life. But it was also the toughest season for our family. My Dad would be introduced to physical and psychological pain as his body and soul broke in the face of cancer. The disease spread through his body like venom. Breaking him.

We moved to the US while he was still fighting this new reality. It was hard for him to see hope beyond the diagnosis. Some might say he was negative; I just thought he never met hope personified. 

Our relationship eventually got better. Grandkids can do that to an old man. But so can brokenness. The Portguese man who claimed he would never cross the Atlantic ocean would eventually visit 2 times. On his last trip the cross came alive in him.

CJ saw the perfect rainbow arcing over their soup kitchen. He wondered how his nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look.

Matt De La Peña, Last Stop on Market Street

Hope is alive

In his last visit he left his last impression. One that shapes my faith today. I think that is why I wrote this post. I want my children to know the good memories far outweigh the bad ones. That their Avô was a good man that ultimately needed to experience his own cross to know he couldn’t carry it on his own.

During his last visit he would apologize for many of his mistakes. He would proclaim his love for me and Courtney. But most importantly he would recognize the refreshing feeling of hope in us. Something that moved him to claim a peace he never had experienced before. In one of the last days at our house he asked if he could pray. It was a simple prayer for our meal. But one that took me back to that bus ride. To realize that the God I serve can do the impossible.

He saw sunset colors swirling over crashing waves. Saw a family of hawks slicing through the sky. Saw the old woman’s butterflies dancing free in the light of the moon. CJ’s chest grew full and he was lost in the sound and the sound gave him the feeling of magic.

Matt De La Peña, Last Stop on Market Street

That is the true story of Easter. One that makes hope alive.

Those crosses still stand in the Calvary hilltop in Medelim. They are a simbol of what happened 2000 years ago. But I can’t help think that maybe those crosses were for me and my Dad to recognize Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

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