Almighty God, Conqueror of the Grave

The cross atop Mt. McCoy in Simi Valley, CA is illuminated for Holy Week on April 10, 2017. CREDIT: Jennifer Van Laar

In my hometown of Simi Valley, California, we have a beautiful Holy Week tradition that helps us remember Christ’s sacrifice throughout the week. Atop Mt. McCoy, at the far western end of the valley, sits a cross originally erected in the early 1800s as a landmark for Spanish priests traveling between the Ventura and San Fernando missions. Since 1921 sunrise services have been held at the cross on Easter Sunday, and since 1941 (with a few exceptions) it has been illuminated every night during Holy Week by members of local community groups – some of whom have their families sleep overnight on the mountain to keep watch over the generator. On Good Friday, though, there is no light, a solemn reminder of that dark night.


As a child I loved seeing the cross lit up during that week and thought it was pretty, but my appreciation for what it represents has grown significantly as I’ve gotten older and experienced the pain of losing a loved one.

In the spring of 2017 my dad passed away after a very brief battle against acute myeloid leukemia (AML). His disease was so advanced by the time we caught it that it doesn’t even seem appropriate to call it a “battle.” He was diagnosed on Friday, March 24 and died Monday, April 10. By the morning of April 7 he was ready to go home and refused any further medical treatment and signed a DNR. We were blessed to have four days to say our goodbyes, but still, 16 days wasn’t enough time to fully grasp that my dad would no longer be somewhere on this earth – over the years, no matter how far away from home I traveled or lived, when I went to sleep at night I knew that my Dad was sleeping somewhere under that same sky, and that he was always there for me. Those who have lost parents probably know what I mean.

The last picture of me with my first hero, my Dad, Mike Van Laar. You can still see the twinkle in his eye. April 6, 2017. CREDIT: Jennifer Van Laar

After he passed, shortly after 6 PM on that Monday of Holy Week, I walked alone to my car in the hospital parking lot and thought about how weird that was. We hear stories about people transitioning to the next life with their family by their side but we don’t usually think about what happens next, that those left behind sometimes just walk right back into the “normal” world, get into their car, and go home.


Driving home on the 118 Freeway over the Santa Susana Pass into Simi Valley, an incredible sunset unfolded before me. He taught me to love sunsets, and it’s fitting that heaven welcomed him with a spectacular one. I wept as I drove down the freeway, completely out of sorts with this new reality. I put in one of my favorite sacred music albums by Hilary Weeks in an attempt to ease some of the sorrow. When I was almost to my home near Mt. McCoy it was nearly dark. Sitting at a stoplight, I was lost in my own thoughts and just staring blankly at the windshield, not seeing beyond it. Then something said to me, “Look up.” I looked up to see the cross, illuminated against a dark blue sky.

The cross atop Mt. McCoy in Simi Valley, CA is illuminated for Holy Week on April 10, 2017. CREDIT: Jennifer Van Laar

As I drank in the view, tears streamed down my face as I listened to these lyrics in the song “Through His Name”:

Author and Finisher of our Faith

Almighty God

Conqueror of the Grave…


Through His name, through His name

We can be saved, we can be saved

And we can live with Him again

Through the power of His name

In that moment I was reassured that my Dad was still right there with me, and comforted by the knowledge that both of us would live again thanks to the sacrifice our Savior made for us on the cross and the power of His Resurrection.



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