Saturday, April 13, 2013

Rediscovering joy from our places of sorrow

"There is an abyss, a terrible Holy Saturday, between the Good Fridays and Easter Sundays of our lives, between our mourning and our dancing."

A dark and lonely abyss separates sorrow and joy. This was evident to me as I sat in the church waiting for the funeral to begin. The church was beautifully decorated for Easter; its symbolism proclaimed the joy of the resurrection and the awakening of creation after the long winter.  In the days before Easter, this same church spoke of sorrow; it was bare except for a simple black cross with a heap of stones at its base.

Through symbolism and liturgical celebrations, those of us who worshipped at churches like this one during Easter, entered into the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. On Holy Thursday, events threw us into confusion. On Good Friday, we entered the dark tomb of death. We were silent and alone on Holy Saturday, the only day of the year when there is no liturgy. On Easter Sunday, we rejoiced in the light of the resurrection. In the space of a few days, we had moved from mourning to dancing, from weeping to singing,  “Alleluia!”

"The Risen Christ"
Louise McEwan Photo

Joy is out of synch with the immediacy of suffering
Three days after Easter, on a brilliant spring morning, we were back in church struggling with the realities of life and death. Our mood was more in keeping with the solemnity of Good Friday, than the exuberance of Easter Sunday.  We had come to mourn. The joy of Easter and the glory of this spring day were jarringly out of synch with the immediacy of human suffering.

At times like this, it is difficult to reconcile joy with sorrow.  While we desperately want to know “why bad things happen to good people”, no answers soothe the heart that is heavy with grief, and every word of comfort, even those spoken in faith, sounds like an empty platitude. Still, I found myself pondering the relationship between the Easter liturgies and our real life experience of death and resurrection.  

With hearts entombed, we are the dead among the living
When we lose a beloved one, our heart quite literally aches within us, as if it is entombed in our body.  Outwardly, we go through the motions of living, while inwardly we are numb to the fullness of life.  We have become the dead among the living.

At times like this, the only way out of suffering is to pass through the terrible and lonely darkness of this very personal crucifixion; to live the Easter story according to the timeline of our own heart and in our own way.

At times like this, it seems impossible that our mourning will ever turn to dancing. Yet, sorrow and joy may not be as irreconcilable as we think. Love motivates them both.

Darkness does not extinguish love
The same love that overwhelms our spirit with sorrow and plunges us into darkness, coaxes us back into the light. The relationship that we shared with the beloved one reawakens our sense of joy; no darkness can extinguish the reality of this love that reaches out to us from beyond the tomb. Through the prism of our tears, we emerge, profoundly changed, into the light of our own resurrection.

Yes, there is an abyss, a terrible Holy Saturday, between the Good Fridays and Easter Sundays of our lives, between our time of mourning and dancing. Onto the black cross of the abyss, imagine the image of a man, his head inclined towards the earth. This is the face of Love that accompanies us out of the tomb, and guides us back into the land of the living where the glories of spring await us.

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