On Good Friday I had a discussion with my 5 yr old grandchild Tessa. She has long known about 'Jesus crosses' and this year we talked about death. Earlier last month I had spoken to the children at Nettlestone nursery about how Easter was about death and life. For Tessa and for a little girl in the nursery death was a recent and real event, both had recently lost animals. Tessa had watched an orphan lamb die and the little girl had lost a pet cat. At the nursery she cried as she told us and was comforted and cared for by the staff and other children as we encouraged and reassured her, for Tessa there had been the ritual of burial and flowers that she described for me.
This year our whole society is obsessed by death... by the fear of death, of contagion from each other as we are reminded day on day of the death toll from the virus. Each week in the UK approximately 10,500 people die in total and in March this year this figure was lower than last year but as the Covid 19 virus continues to have an impact so the figures will rise. I remember standing in the Imperial War museum years ago and seeing the clock that ticks with the number of deaths world wide through war and I am reminded that if we had daily updates showing death from poverty, exploitation, war and obesity then our perception of the safe and cosy world we live in may be different.
At the moment it feels like our whole lives are controlled by computer models and statistics as deaths are logged and plotted; but not all deaths are the same and not all deaths are a tragedy.
As I talked to Tessa I told her about visit that I had at a death bed, an elderly lady who was leaving her frail body. I am not one for creating images of the unknowable as even from Jesus we get very little to go on when it comes to an afterlife but I told Tessa about this ladies smile as she listened to the story of Mary and Jesus, as Jesus meets her after his death (as told by John) and I told her that we need not be afraid to let go. Death is terrible, awesome and incredibly sad but it is absolutely the one true reality of our lives.... we and those that we love will die.
Easter is about DEATH... about death and Resurrection. Easter is about premature, brutal, unjust death, the worst death of all; a young person mourned by his family and dearest friends, killed by torture for a crime he did not commit, taken at the prime of his life in the fullness of his strength. In this image all death, the peaceful passing of the elderly to the still born baby are held before us and we are terrified by it. Our fear is justified, we wonder how the pain will ever heal and it may stay with us forever because death scars us and may break us. All our deaths, the death of relationships, the death of dreams. the loss of health, the futures denied us are here in this image. This present crisis has killed so many more things than people. It has killed livelihoods, shattered hope, broken relationships and filled us with fear.... and after grief and fear comes anger and we are seeing that start to build.
I have always said that the greatest gift of our faith is the way that we can't avoid the Cross. The centrality of our faith all year is Death and Ressurection; not immortality, not blessing without cost or a fairy tale of miraculous wonders. Jesus spoke about this again and again and all year we hear His words and turn to face our fear of lifes' deaths.
Into this reality of death and the fear that is all around us comes the something that many of us have already recognized.... LIFE..... Life bursts forth. I have spoken about the Good in life about true life of relationships, of appreciation of nature and of the acts of service, the love of neighbour that we are created for. In this time of death and fear there has been a revolution in our society, we have noticed the spring and are walking in natural environments and we are desperate to do so. We have cherished our families and friends making contact any way that we can and committing to moving in together 'for the duration'. We have learnt that we can't live by bread alone, that we need each other. We are educating the children that we have brought into being, spending more time with them that we ever have, finding out who they are and learning how to live together.
We are experiencing RESURRECTION. It is not an abstract concept wrapped up in religious language. It is not a joyful frivolity that is an addition to our already blessed lives. Through death and loss we are coming to NEW LIFE.
This year what will your New Life look like? What has died? What has been born again?
In front of us all is the possibility of a completely new future, don't cling to the old, I finish with this beautiful story from John's Gospel.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.