Thinking Anew – Facing the future with renewed hope
“Palm Sunday and the events of Holy Week demolish any idea that Christianity is an escape route from life’s difficulties”
Few questions have exercised the minds of people down the ages more than the question of human suffering and loss. The recent tragic loss of an Irish Coast Guard helicopter crew off the west coast – generous lives devoted to saving others – is especially poignant and we are driven, not for the first time, to ask why? It is a religious question because for those who don’t believe in God it is a matter of misfortune; that’s life. For the religious person, however, the question arises if there is a God, why does he allow such things to happen?
In tomorrow’s Palm Sunday liturgy we are reminded how uncertain life can be; how things can change so quickly and suddenly. As Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem his friends and followers were on a high; the crowds were cheering, life was good, what could possibly go wrong? But as the week passed things began to change and by sunset on Good Friday all seemed lost. The family and friends of Jesus must surely have asked that same question that troubles us all in times of loss: if there is a God, why does he allow terrible things to happen?
Palm Sunday and the events of Holy Week demolish any idea that Christianity is an escape route from life’s difficulties. In the suffering and death of Jesus, the things that frighten and concern us most are met head-on but they are so dealt with that we are assured that they can never be the last word. That is the essence of our faith but having this faith does not diminish the awfulness of the suffering that comes our way or the grief we feel when we lose someone precious. The pain, the sorrow, is real but Holy Week encourages us to recognise that God is with us not only through it all but, perhaps more importantly, beyond it all.
Lisa Goertz lost most of her family including her husband and children in the Holocaust. Overwhelmed by grief she felt she could take no more and decided to end her life. But, as she explains in her book, I Stepped into Freedom, an extraordinary experience changed her mind: “I walked out into the night, feeble with hunger, half-crazy with fear and fatigue, and made my way down to the river Neisse. In a few hours, all would be over, I told myself. What a relief! And there it happened. Across the dark river, I saw the Cross and Jesus Christ on it. His face was not the face of a victor; it was the face of a fellow-sufferer, full of love and understanding and compassion. We gazed at each other, both of us Jews, and then the vision disappeared.” This brought Lisa Goertz to Christian faith and the ability to face the future with hope.