Light in the darkness: Archbishop’s Easter article.
Easter comes early this year. Even nature seems to have cottoned on, with gardens already bright and blooming with spring flowers. But Good Friday also came early. The day in which Christians recall the betrayal, torture, humiliation and killing of Jesus has had its clear echo in the pages of our newspapers and the images of rolling news programmes. The horror and injustice of the crucifixion was mirrored in the savage acts of terrorism which brought pain, fear and death to Brussels last week. Closer to home the awful, heartbreaking sorrow of the Virgin Mary, standing close to the cross of her crucified son, finds its echo in the desperate sadness of the family and friends of Paige Doherty, whose murder has shocked Scotland. And in less public, and unreported episodes across the country, people will spend this Easter trying to comprehend the chasm of sadness which has opened up in front of them with the death of a loved one. In 40 years as a priest I have had to try to make sense of tragedies and accidents, illnesses and crimes which have brought devastating sadness into people’s lives. And I quickly learned that the best words to say in such circumstances are those which come spontaneously, as one human being sharing, or trying to share, the pain of another. Pious phrases or trite words of wisdom are of no consolation when people come face to face with the terrible mystery of evil and death. At such times the best thing we can do is to offer the gift of our presence and to express compassion. Compassion comes from two Latin words which mean, literally, to “suffer with”. We “suffer with” those around us whose lives have been torn apart by grief, or pain or loss; those struggling with apparently intolerable burdens. This weekend in our hearts we “suffer with” those families whose loved ones got up on Tuesday morning thinking only of catching their early flight, only for their lives to be cut short, in an instant, as a result of senseless fundamentalist terrorism. And yet, here we are at Easter Sunday… the day of resurrection The bells ring, the Alleluia which has been hushed for the six weeks of Lent, is once more proclaimed joyfully, and we read in our churches the wonderful accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. What has the Easter message to do with the chaos and messiness, the pain and fear of the world around us? How are we to reconcile the concept of the loving, victorious, all powerful God of the resurrection with the mystery of evil? I can do nothing other than turn to the pages of the Gospel. There Jesus says to all the bereaved and to all of us: “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.” And on this Easter Sunday, we all need rest and comfort and re-assurance and light. The God of whom Jesus speaks is not cruel, vengeful or capricious. The God whom Jesus reveals is loving, merciful and just. “Come to me and I will give you rest.” The God of whom Jesus speaks, whom we know as Our Father, only wants the good for his children in this life and in the world to come. And this Easter Sunday holds out to us the greatest of promises – that of life after death. Our earthly existence is such a wonderful gift. God created us for life and freedom. And in this life we are free. We move as we wish. We are not puppets on a string, not robots controlled from afar. We have free will to choose good or evil. And those choices have an impact – sometimes a devastating impact – on others. We are not indestructible, not immune from forces which are too much for us. Our bodies cannot survive everything here on earth. These are the limitations of the human condition. But we are not meant for limitations. We are meant for life and glory. And in the resurrection, neither evil intent, nor human cruelty, nor serious illness, not even death itself had any power over Jesus and neither will they have any power over us. In the resurrection, our bodies will be glorified and will be filled with eternal life. This is the hope that Jesus Christ – and He alone – holds out to us on this Easter day. This is what awaits all those who died in terrible circumstances during this Holy Week. We speed them on to the loving embrace of God with our prayers and supplications. Those who have died have not dropped into nothingness or non-existence. They have gone to God who will love and protect them until we see them again in the life of the world to come. When I was a student, and then a priest in Rome, I would often hear sung the ancient Latin Easter hymn, the Victimae Paschali. It is a powerful piece of theology as well as a wonderful piece of sacred music. In it we hear the words: “Death and life contended, in a vivid battle: the Prince of life, who died, reigns alive.” Those words – telling of the battle between life and death, good and evil - are a summary not just of the world around us, but of our own lives. Every day, in little ways, we fight a battle between right and wrong, between caring and ignoring, between virtue and vice, between giving and taking – such is the stuff of life. But Easter reminds us that, in the end, Good, with a capital “G”, will triumph. In the Catholic Church we are marking this year as a “Year of Mercy” – a time to be ever more convinced that God is always ready to forgive us, if we turn to him in sincere sorrow. In recent days Pope Francis has preached many a sermon, reminding us of this great and consoling truth. Some of his best sermons are preached without words. On Holy Thursday he spoke powerfully about the need for peace, justice, compassion and forgiveness in the world as he knelt to wash the feet of 12 people – 11 of whom were asylum seekers fleeing from violence and war. They came from Mali, Nigeria, Eritrea, India, Syria and Pakistan. "All of us together, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, evangelicals, are brothers, children of the same God, who want to live in peace … Each one of you, each in your religious language, let's pray to the Lord so that this brotherhood is contagious in the world," he said. At its core his message is one of great hope. Easter hope. Human beings have a capacity for great good as well as great evil. And God will not be outdone in mercy – that is the good news, amid so much sad news of this week. May the blessings of the risen and merciful Jesus Christ be with you and your families today and always.