Columbia, SC — I REMEMBER the moment I truly embraced the power of the resurrection as if it were yesterday.
No, its not a memory of Mom helping us dye eggs or of my first Easter basket or chocolate bunny, although I cherish those moments. Its not fueled by the visions of shiny new shoes and dapper suits. Its not fed by tasty thoughts of a holiday dinner, complete with ham and brown rice and green beans and collards and macaroni and cheese and potato salad.
Its not my vivid recollection of my first Easter speech: Easter bunny, Easter bunny, hop, hop, hop. Make your ears go flop, flop, flop.
My personal resurrection experience didnt occur during my childhood or on Easter or any other Sunday. It transpired at a mid-week political event or so I thought I attended out of curiosity in 1996. The first black Republican from the South elected to the U.S. House since Reconstruction was in town and, quite frankly, I wondered what kind of political message he was preaching. I came away a new man.
And with a new reverence for Easter.
As a child, I understood the meaning of Easter. After all, I grew up in church. In Bertha Boltons house, you didnt sleep in on Sundays. She didnt send us to Sunday school and church; she took us.
I learned the Christ story well: Jesus, the son of God, came to earth to save sinful man. He died on the cross. Was buried in a tomb. Defeated death, hell and the grave. Rose early one Sunday morning with all power in his hand.
With guidance from my mom, a loving and wise woman and a strict disciplinarian, I grew to be a fairly obedient, responsible child and teen. She demanded that we value education, treat others with dignity and respect and practice sound morals. More than that, she knew the power of prayer and how critical it was for us to be in church to learn about God and discover our need for his presence in our lives.
As a result, I gained an understanding of Easter that would be the foundation upon which, one day, I would come to experience Easter in my personal spiritual life.
Its one thing to know the story. Its another thing to experience the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.
While my mother prayed for me and took me to church, it was up to me to form a relationship with Christ.
That didnt occur the day I was baptized at 12, the age when many strongly encourage youngsters to join the church. Yes, I got wet and I was added to the church roll. I met all the criteria of religion. But it wasnt my days as an assiging editor at The State that I would establish a relationship with Jesus and experience Easter in a more excellent way.
One day in November 1996, Levona Page, a reporter, invited me to a speakers series at her church, First Baptist, in downtown Columbia. The speaker for the evening was Congressman J.C. Watts, an African-American from Oklahoma.
I must admit, I went expecting to hear a lecture on Republican virtues from Mr. Watts, who had been an outstanding quarterback for the University of Oklahoma. Instead he shared his testimony about how Christ had changed his life. As Mr. Watts talked about challenges he faced growing up in a poor, black, rural area of Oklahoma, I could relate to his story. Then he talked about how he had changed after accepting Christ. He quoted from Hebrews 12:1,2, which admonishes readers to lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us and identifies Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith.
After Mr. Watts had finished speaking to the crowd, God continued speaking to me. That very moment, I took stock of my life; I remembered my mothers teaching, the Sunday school lessons, the church services.
Still, I had to acknowledge I had never accepted Christ into my life. So, I prayed softly: Lord, I know Jesus died for me. Forgive me of my sins and save me. If you save me, Lord, Ill run for you and do whatever you want me to do.
It wasnt Resurrection Sunday, but that weekday night, Easter showed up in my life. That night, the old me died, and a new man arrived. I became a born-again Christian.
Later that night, I got a call that my sister-in-law, Angie, had been rushed to Baptist Hospital, next door to First Baptist Church.
I got dressed and headed there. On the way, I could sense God saying: You said you want to serve me. Ill see.
When I got there, my brother, Samuel, said: They said shes got a two percent chance of making it through the night.
How can a man give someone a two percent chance to live? I asked, adding that God has that final say.
We went into the room and prayed for God to raise Angie up. She lived another 13 years, during which she couldnt stop telling her story.
And I havent stopped telling mine: Easter after Easter, I had proclaimed He is risen, when in actuality he had not risen in my life. But that night in 1996, Jesus made a triumphal entry into my heart.
Reach Mr. Bolton, author of God Is Grace: Lessons to a Father from a Son, at (803) 771-8631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.