“It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
That little cliché got worked into a Gospel song many years ago (admittedly a bit corny by today’s standards!) performed by friends of mine, for which I, in my teens, provided the keyboard accompaniment. The thing about clichés and other proverbial sayings is that we’ll never stamp them out because in their own way they capture the paradoxes we know to be real, including the compulsive yearning and dreaming that is as much part of what it means to be human as the sense of hopelessness we sometimes endure.
Well, we need to remind ourselves that it IS always darkest before the dawn!
One of the most graphic images of this in the Gospels is when Jesus, the night before he died, spoke of the devastation his disciples were about to experience - of course, nothing like the suffering and pain of the cross, but nonetheless real to them. He said,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:20-21)
A woman’s extraordinary - and split second - transition from the anguish of labour to the joy of birth, is a great wonder. The Lord said that the pain to be suffered by the disciples would just as swiftly give way to joy, “and no one will take your joy from you.”
The last twelve months have been rough for many people who regularly read this blog ... floods, cyclones, bushfires, economic hardships, earthquakes and difficult insurance companies. (I must say, in the case of Queenslanders ... you’re a special people with a great capacity for resilience that I came to know for myself when I moved to Brisbane in 1995, and I salute you. That resilience and your courage has been on show to the whole world in recent times.)
But just as painful – and in some respects more so - has been the great and ongoing struggle for Anglican catholics to discern the Lord’s will in terms of “staying” or “going.” In England I know personally many priests and laypeople just barely hanging on who are in spiritual and emotional turmoil while they await the appointment of a new Bishop of Fulham and PEVs. (In Australia it’s a hundred times worse, because such episcopal ministry continues to be refused as a matter of principle.)
Also difficult to manage is the animosity that has developed between old friends. We need to remember, whatever decisions we feel in conscience we must make, that the Tiber is not a very wide river!
Maybe this year during Holy Week – and perhaps for a long time beforehand - we have entered into the sorrow of those disciples in a special way. To be honest, I know that is true for me. If it’s your experience, too, and even if outwardly things don’t seem to get much better for a while, you could do worse than pray through the following little bits that I have decided to share with you. They certainly encourage me.
Jesus is Lord; he is gloriously and triumphantly risen from the dead (though his body still bears the wounds he suffered). He shares his victory with us here and now as we journey through this life. His love is real, and his light scatters the darkness and gloom. We hang on, we press on, knowing that we are already "risen with Christ" and "sit with him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6)." In fact, one interpretation of the Sursum Corda in the Mass is that when the priest sings "Lift up your hearts" and we reply "We lift them up to the Lord", what we are really saying is - in defiance of all that would drag us into the depths - "by the power of the Holy Spirit we hold our hearts up, we keep holding them up in the heavenly places, the real epi-centre of our worship where the victory of Jesus is already manifest."
It's all a matter of perspective.
Let's pray for a renewal of our perspective as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord.
With the assurance of my love and prayers, I say to everyone, especially family, friends and colleagues: “Happy Easter.”
"With you, Lord, I will flee,
that I may gain in you Life in every place.
The prison with you is no prison,
for in you man goes up into Heaven:
the grave with you is no grave,
for you are the Resurrection."
- St. Ephraim the Syrian
(The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: 2nd Series Vol. XIII; p. 236)
Easter says to us: have faith! Faith does not mean that we first try to see things in a coherent and intelligible shape and then conclude that God is true. Faith is more like when the women came to the tomb while it was still very dark, and they wondered who could move away the stone as it was very heavy: and look - the stone is gone!
When things are very dark, when human possibilities are exhausted, when we are at the end of our tether, God acts. Easter defines for all time the character of Christian faith: human weakness; divine power; I can't. God can; I am weak, God is strong; I am a sinner, God forgives. Does this sound fanciful?
lt was such a faith that enabled the aposties to carry the gospel into a hostile world. It was such a faith that sustained Christian men and women again and again throughout the centuries. lt is like a coin that is always on one side - frailty, penitence, death, and on the other side - power, forgiveness and life. Let the words of St John sound in our hearts today: 'This is the victory that overcomes the world - our faith' (1 John 5:4-5).
- Michael Ramsey
(Canterbury Pilgrim p 161)
The Eucharist sets you on the way of Christ.
It takes you into his redeeming death
and gives you a share
in the most radical deliverance possible.
And already the light of the resurrection,
the new creation,
is streaming through it from beyond.
Whenever you sit at table with the risen Lord,
it is the first day of the week,
very early in the morning.
- Rule for a New Brother
(Dutch Blessed Sacrament Fathers)
This holy and blessed day is the first of the week,
the king and master of all days,
the feast of feasts and the season of seasons.
On this day we bless Christ forever and ever.
O faithful, come,
celebrate the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus the Christ.
This is the day the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice and be glad.
Now that we have seen the resurrection of the Christ,
Let us adore the all-holy Lord Jesus,
the only sinless One.
We bow in worship before your cross, O Christ.
We praise and glorify your resurrection
for you are our God and we have no other.
We magnify your name.
All your faithful come.
Let us adore the holy resurrection of the Christ.
Behold, through your cross joy has come to the world!
Let us always bless the Lord.
Let us sing his resurrection.
By enduring for us the pain of the cross,
He has crushed death by his death.
- Orthodox Liturgy