A Day that Changed the World

This week marks a tipping point - or several – in the life of the church, and in my own life. First, there was Good Friday, a sombre day of remembrance, yet known for centuries as Good because it was the day Jesus Christ “accomplished” that reconciliation between heaven and earth that can be ours, by faith, two thousand years later. Our local service began with a strange request; could we come forward and take a piece of bread and a communion cup, for sharing later? Yes, it would be awkward, said the leader, we would want to put them down. But could we just hold on to them for the hour?

Within two minutes, I was weeping. Of course it felt uncomfortable; the tiny glass was nearly full, and there was still some standing and sitting to do. But as I weighed up whether to put it down – unlikely as I am a very dutiful “oldest child” – the words of Scripture came ringing in my ears “Lord, let this cup pass from me.” Jesus held on to the cup, in an obedience that led to his death, and did not put it down, despite the physical agony and sense of abandonment. “Nevertheless not my will but thine.” All that was asked of me was to hold mine, so much smaller and only slightly uncomfortable, for one hour. I did hold on, and the experience filled me with more love for him than all the songs we sang or prayers we prayed that day.

Next came Easter Sunday – for me a joyful sharing with the children of our congregation. Part way through the service we moved into a side chapel and took half an hour to fill a large poster of the empty tomb with colourful pictures of flowers, and of men, women and children leaping for joy. Then we returned to the sanctuary to sing Crown Him with Many Crowns. So I missed the sermon, but I’m pretty sure I know what it was about. Resurrection Day was the day that proved to the world that Jesus’ execution by the Romans was in fact a moment of divine transaction, that his sacrifice was vindicated, and that the power of God’s love can overcome even death itself. A tipping point indeed.

That’s an important message for our faith community this week, as Wednesday presents another tipping point for us. It marks the twelve months since a beloved son, grandson, brother, friend and colleague was drowned in the Mangetepopo River tragedy, when seven young people died in a freak flood during a course at an outdoor pursuits centre. Tony McClean was a great teacher and an inspiring leader, but the most important thing about him was that he was a follower of Jesus Christ. That impacted everything in his being, and we will remember that amazingly full life again this week. Some will attend a memorial service, others will donate to the mission in Nepal set up in his memory, some have already gone for a dawn surf, still others will just want to sit around and talk, as we did for many nights, one year ago. So April 15th marks another tipping point, one that for his family – and for our church family – is indelibly marked by tears and confusion.

I can’t explain why Tony died. The Department of Labour has found some reasons, and the Police and Coroner may also apportion blame. But as a follower of Jesus Christ since 14 April 1965 (another reason why this week stands out for me), I feel the need to make sense of it spiritually, and to see it in the light of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. That isn’t easy. I rebel against any suggestion that Tony’s life on earth had served its purpose; there was so much more for him to do. And although there is a sense in which Tony died for another (he was carrying a disabled teenager), that too is no explanation of why some died and others survived. Like other people, I struggle with the “problem of suffering” anyway, but this last year that question has borne a rugged, tanned face with a huge toothy smile.

The most helpful book on suffering that I have seen – and I must go back and read it again – was one by Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor who uses nature, history, the Bible and the arts to point to “helpful clues”. I find that notion helpful. That there is no pat solution – in this life anyway – but there are clues that light up the dark corners of the cave, one at a time.

Easter is one of those clues. It reminds us that suffering can have a purpose. It reminds us that God is there, even when we feel utterly forsaken by him. And it reminds us that death is not the end, when we live each day with the God who rolled away the stone.

To Chew Over: What clues have helped you make sense of pain and suffering? How does the Easter story impact the challenges of your daily life?

Tomb, thou shalt not hold Him longer;
Death is strong, but Life is stronger;
Stronger than the dark, the light;
Stronger than the wrong, the right;
Faith and Hope triumphant say
Christ will rise on Easter Day.
~ Phillips Brooks