Most of us, at some point in our lives, live through bleak and dark times. These can be related to the death of loved ones, relationship break down, disability and illness, loss of a job, miscarriage of a baby, experience of poverty or injustice. Sometimes these dark places are forced upon us, sometimes they arise because we have made poor decisions or transgressed in some way. Whatever the experience, the unifier is the suffering felt. This can manifest itself as depression, anxiety, anger, confusion and a feeling of hopelessness.
These last few days we have watched in horror at the suffering of the relatives of victims from the Germanwings plane crash. Thankful we are not one of their number, our hearts go out to these people. We wonder how the relatives will ever get over their loss.
Last week, I heard an interview with a young man who lost his parents in the 1999 EgyptAir crash which killed 217 people in Massachusetts; like the Germanwings disaster, the co-pilot appeared to manipulate the controls to bring the plane down. The interviewee spoke of the grief he suffered, his initial anger and depression. This remarkably open young man went on to describe, how, as time passed, his suffering abated. He described how eventually he dwelt less on the tragedy and found he could laugh and joke about other areas of his life. He was quick to point out that he would never forget his parents, that he could never think of the crash with anything less than horror, but that he had accepted what had happened and found a way to keep living. His life was not simply about surviving day by day, no, this young man was living his life to the full – he had a rewarding job, a successful marriage, a baby daughter whom he loved.
Is the message we take away from this solely that ‘life is hard’ so you’d better just crack on? Well yes life is hard, but I believe that it is only in these dark, desperate places that we start to actually live our life fully and deeply. It is only when we experience shadows that we can discern light. After all if we lived forever, if we never suffered pain and disappointment, we could never take life seriously, never learn to love deeply – as the young man described. Until we reach the limits of our lives, understand that we cannot control everything, that we are not self-sufficient, we cannot feed from the sustaining ‘living water’ that God provides.
On Easter Monday, around 700 young people and their families will walk from all over Kent to converge at Canterbury Cathedral, for a service at noon. The young people come to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection through worship, music and activity; it is a truly joyful occasion.
But it is only with the contrast of the bleakness of Lent and the despair of the events of Holy Week culminating with Jesus’ death on Good Friday, that we can fully know the joy of Easter Sunday. Without the pain and the darkness, light and joy is not possible.
The pilgrimage that the young people make through Kent on Easter Monday, reminds us of the two followers of Jesus who walked along the road to Emmaus, away from Jerusalem and the events surrounding Jesus’ death. We read in Luke that the two disciples are crest-fallen. They have lost the person they loved most. As they do not yet believe that Jesus has risen from the dead, they feel their hope that Jesus was going to change the world is shattered.
They set out on their journey keen to get away. They have a purpose and destination in mind. But on the journey they encounter a stranger. They share their woes with this stranger. They ask their new companion to stop and eat with them. As the stranger breaks bread the disciples recognise Jesus is with them. They reflect “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). They turn back to Jerusalem to share the good news.
The disciples have fallen to the lowest place and suffered. In doing so they are open to a new answer, a new way of being and they find something they longed for. Their reward is the realisation that God is with them. Through Jesus, God has come to them with his unstoppable love, his unending compassion, his unfaltering forgiveness.
It might not feel like it at the time, but when we live through a dark and desperate time, we are not just changed, we are transformed. In our suffering God is there, pouring his love into us. God transforms us, so that we draw closer to him. The story of Jesus’ resurrection which transforms our world on the very largest scale is played out inside each of us; the darkness always gives way to the new life of Easter. Jesus’ story, is the story of our lives.