I am reflecting on a strange week, and a relatively quiet Easter as I begin to prepare for next Sunday’s worship, I haven’t taken this coming Sunday off as I often do as I am planning ( or re-planning a retreat for later in April). The days leading up to Easter were filled with reflection for me and devoid of potential busyness because as I was allowing myself to take on only one engagement per day as I was and am still recovering from a nasty bout of flu.
The one engagement per day was a real gift as it allowed me to enter deeply into the story of that unfolded in rhythms of celebration, fear, loss, grief and then began to turn to quiet, if confused and doubted celebration. It is because of this that I find that I am still walking quietly into the Easter Season, and although I have sung Alleluia’s they are resting more quietly within me and not shouted with exuberance. I am finding this to be a healing and helpful experience, for I believe even more firmly ( and gently) now, that those days that followed Jesus resurrection were not certainty filled, victorious exuberant days for his disciples, yes there were bursts of joy, but there was still grief, doubt and confusion.
A short Facebook conversation with a friend reflected this for me this morning, we are both moving this summer, and both moves are good moves, even longed for and looked for moves, yet they are accompanied by grief and loss, doubt and uncertainty, and that is OK!
Change, even good change brings with it if we are honest a necessary time for grief no matter how well prepared for grief we might be. A parent, or parents welcoming a newborn or longed for adopted child into their family experiences a time of change and a loss of what was, and while joy will most likely eclipse the grief the grief is and should rightly be still there. The loss of a loved one at any age brings grief, and I often struggle pastorally with folk who claim that the experience of loss after a long illness is only a blessing and a relief, and are unable to grieve. Before you start shouting at me yes I am well aware that grief takes many forms and stages and may only emerge months or years after the event… but to dey grief, is to deny something of ourselves its true expression.
So moving back to the disciples, I wonder what they would make of our victory filled Easter Hymns? I wonder which words they might have used to express their feelings and thoughts during those strange days? Their deepest sorrow had been surprised by joy, but that joy was etched deeply with change,and doubt, the cautious belief overcoming their initial disbelief took longer for some than others!
Mary recognising her name being spoken (John 20) was told not to cling to her Lord when I suspect that she would have wanted to hold him tightly and never let go, Peter we are told was confused (Luke 24), and of course still carried the guilt of having denied his Lord, perhaps he both longed to see him, and to explain and dreaded that meeting at one and the same time.
One thing is certain, everything had changed, blind eyes were being opened, and ears un-stopped ( think of the travellers on the Emmaus road), bursts of joy sat alongside questions, deep questions… Questions that we can echo today if we dare, for unless we revisit the question “what does this all mean?” we lose something very precious.
So I am content not to burst into joy-filled, loud Alleluia’s, and to allow them to grow slowly within me, I am content to allow them to sit side by side with my doubts, questions and griefs. How else could I dare to lead a funeral service for a newborn baby, and pray for the bereaved with any integrity this week?
I believe more and more that the path that Jesus showed us, the path to and through the cross is one that we must follow, we must be prepared not only to own our griefs and doubts and to move through them, but in more ways than we can count to allow his transforming work to help us to die daily to our false selves, our ego filled lives. This is necessary and painful spiritual work, and it will lead us into life and truth, and a gentler deeper celebration of life than we might have ever imagined.
I am struck by his quiet greeting to Mary in the garden, and by his gentle unfolding of the Scriptures to those on the Emmaus Road, and then by his words of peace as he breathed the Holy Spirit upon the gathered group behind locked doors. He did not chastise them for their hiding, he did not compel them out into the city to witness for him, instead he came gently and quietly breathing ( praying?) peace upon them and into them.
He had spoken of that peace on the way to the garden where he struggled with deaths grip, he offered that peace to many through a touch of healing and a word of forgiveness, and perhaps it is in that peace, that super-natural, God breathed peace that we find the beginnings of our transformation into love’s true path. I don’t believe that it was my sin that held Christ to that cross, rather it was his deep, deep love, and I do not believe that he was ever truly abandoned no matter how he felt the pain of it, and nor are we, even when we feel the pain of it…
In the words of the Psalmist, “where can I go from your Spirit, where can I flee from your presence?”
It is love that has won, it is love that has proved itself stronger than death, it is love that draws and restores me, it is love that heals and soothes and strengthens my soul, and that love begins in words of peace spoken over the chaos and inner turmoil of my doubts and griefs and pains and calls them into order, it may not banish them, but it brings a new perspective to them, and allows me to begin to see with new eyes and to live with a new purpose.
All change brings grief, and that grief may lead to joy if we let it mingle with peace, and allow it to grow and be transformed slowly within us.