This was first published a year ago as the editorial on Easter Sunday in The Southern Cross, the Roman Catholic weekly newspaper distributed throughout Southern Africa. What most readers were unaware of was that it was written in the light of the death of a close friend. Today is the first anniversary of Greg’s death. Greg was the husband of my closest friend. He was 37 years old.
‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit’ John 12:24
It struck me recently that when we are in the midst of grief following some significant loss this phrase can seem meaningless and almost cruel. The fruit is far from evident, all there appears to be is barren soil.
I think of the disciples on that brutal Friday so many years ago. The shock; the numbness; the sense of utter pointlessness of all that gone before. And then when they finally get to the tomb to finish attending to his body it is empty. Is it any wonder that in the encounter with Mary Magdalene it took Jesus three attempts before she actually recognised him? Or indeed the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Whilst I may not have been in Jerusalem those many years ago the story of the resurrection continues to echo down the centuries. I find resonances in my own life. Not of literal resurrection, but of grace flowering in the wasteland of a fallen dream.
Much like the experience of the actual resurrection the grace is unexpected and occasionally a little unnerving. It is sometimes hard to embrace the new vision. Like the disciples we can be left for a while holed up in the upper room, sitting with the knowledge of new life, but not yet quite sure how to proceed.
And then the inspiration strikes (or perhaps gently dawns) and the way forward begins to clear. We have sufficient light for the next step. Slowly, slowly, we live our way into a new way of being. A way of living that we had not imagined possible but there is hope and grace and promise.
When our dreams fail perhaps through death, perhaps through broken relationship, perhaps through betrayal or injury, it is useful to remember the utter dejection of the disciples on Good Friday night. How can a man of such goodness, such mercy, such vision be cut down in this way? How can the Son of God be killed? There are times when our dreams feel as though they have been ordained by God. Good dreams which have come about as an answer to prayer are suddenly laid to waste. How can this be? We, too, feel lost and dejected.
But again and again, as I have encountered these soul crushing experiences, if we have the courage to wait with hope, new life emerges. It always takes a little longer than is comfortable. Just like the disciples, it may demand new things from us. They had to step up from the role as followers to proclaimers of the Word. Some had to travel to new places. I have no doubt that the lives of all of them were significantly different to what they had been even when they following Jesus.
The catastrophe of the crucifixion with the terrible loss of Jesus, in the end through the resurrection, results in the spreading of the Christian message across the world. But the resurrection by itself was not sufficient. The proclamation of the Gospel required the participation of the disciples. Those men and women needed to be willing to live a new version of their lives.
This new vision was not what they had signed on for when they began to follow Jesus, but now, this was the invitation, this was what was required. So too, in our own lives, in the aftermath of catastrophe there will be an invitation to a new way of being. It takes tremendous courage to choose the new path, and for most of us the transition doesn’t occur nearly as quickly as it did for the disciples. But if we have the courage to follow it, in time, we will see the experience as being laden with grace. What we thought was wasteland now covered in green with the promise of an abundant harvest.