The trees are bursting into bloom, but the air still carries a chill. Spring has not yet arrived, although its calendar start date passed by over a week ago.
It's Holy Week and the stores are full of pastel Easter finery and baskets of candy. It's incongruous. I haven't felt it as sharply before this year. As a minister, I've been able to bounce between the hectic pace of worship services remembering the final dark moments of Jesus' life and then return home to celebrate with family over ham and chocolate eggs. The sadness always held space for the faith of Easter's resurrection.
It's different for me this year.
Within a span of a couple of weeks, my husband and I learned that two people dear to us received terminal cancer diagnoses. It seems so unfair that two young people full of life, faith, and joy have been struck with such grief; and all who love them bear the pain as well. We watch helplessly as they walk a journey that, without a miraculous intervention, will end in death. I am angry and sad, and yet it is not truly about me. It is not my cross to bear, except to walk the journey with them, to pray, to hope, to support, and to grieve.
I pray for a miracle. I pray with angry words and tears to a God who I believe hears but remains frustratingly silent. I try to have faith...I believe!
(Help my unbelief.)
There can be no Easter without Good Friday, though, and sometimes we can only find our way to hope by journeying through what seems hopeless. The very word "compassion" means "suffering with", and we are with others in their times of pain and grief just as we are with Christ in his suffering and death. But then we are with him, too, as he is raised to new life.
May it be so.
How many times have I shared my story of the darkest times of my life? There were times when I wandered through the wilderness, lost, fearing that God had abandoned me. And yet those were the times that I can look back on as the transitions when my faith was strengthened, when God rescued me as I finally found the faith to let go and trust.
I can only see those times as good in retrospect, after coming through on the other side of the valley of the shadow of death, resurrected. When I was in the valley I couldn't hope. I kept walking in the darkness because I knew no other way. In the same way, we journey through a Holy Week that takes us through betrayal, fear, persecution, abandonment, pain, and cruel death. But we know that isn't the end of the story. Though the terrified and confused disciples couldn't foresee it, even though they had been promised it, new life was just a few days away.
"The life was the light of the world.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:4-5)
Good Friday only becomes "good" when we have seen the light and light of Easter, when we have encountered the risen Christ. And haven't I experienced that resurrection time and time again? Why is it so hard to believe? But this is why we journey through this cycle again and again. It all comes down to death and resurrection; this is the substance of our faith.
May we believe in the light that overcomes the darkness. May we trust in the life that is stronger than death. May we live in the love that casts out all fear. May we shout in defiance,
"Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
(1 Corinthians 15:54-55, 57)
May it be so.