Easter: honest about grief, open to hope

A post for those interested in a Christian outlook.

This cascade of golden flowers is the laburnum arch at Bodnant Gardens in North Wales – a sight worth seeing. If you visit in winter, the tree is bare. Come the end of May, and this is the view. Life returns in a blaze of colour. Having hope for life returning is the heart of this article.

It’s ‘Holy Week’. We’re remembering the events leading up to Easter.

Thursday and Friday are days of sadness as we remember the betrayal, trial and death of Jesus. On Saturday we pause, but we know it won’t be for long. Sunday is coming. The joy of resurrection waits on the sunrise. We know how this story ends, but that’s not how it was for his family and followers.

Grief’s journey

On that Saturday long ago, the followers and family of Jesus were gloomy following his arrest, trial, execution and burial. They didn’t expect him to rise from the dead. They didn’t get it that the terrible events of Friday could have any good follow-up.

They were hopeless. They tucked themselves away in a secure location, afraid for their own safety. Hopeless and in despair. These are feelings that you might be able to relate to in your grief.

Here’s what one bereaved father, a priest, wrote about this day: 

Holy Saturday is an in between day. It’s the day after Good Friday and the day before Easter. What was is no longer and what will be is not yet. If Good Friday is the day of the loss, Holy Saturday is that day when the reality of the loss begins to set in. And I’ll bet you know what that’s like. 

Holy Saturday is the day after. It’s the day after the death. It’s the day after your heart broke, the day after he died, the day after the relationship ended, the day after the job was lost, the day after the diagnosis, the day after a dream was shattered, the day after a part of your life, a part of yourself, has died.

I wish I could tell you that Holy Saturday lasts only one day, but I can’t. It may be one day on the church’s calendar but rarely is it only one day on the calendar of our lives. Holy Saturday is a time of waiting. How long O Lord, how long? It’s a time of wondering when it will get better, or if it will ever get better. It’s a time of asking what’s next and whether there will even be a next. 

It’s a time when there’s not much to say or there’s everything to say and no words with which to say it. Either way it’s a time of silence – the kind of silence that leaves you empty and restless. 

(Father Michael K. Marsh, priest in the Episcopal Church, bereaved of his eldest son in 2009)

What is your Holy Saturday ?

What has broken your heart?

Who have you laid there in the tomb?

The Easter story is honest about grief

Perhaps your loved one died in recent months, or perhaps it was years ago.

There is an ache in your heart. You miss them daily, hourly.

And there are reminders at odd times. The sight of their favourite food in a supermarket. A significant song plays on the radio. A repeat on the TV that you had viewed with them years back. A dream. A long-forgotten handwritten note falls out of a book.

There is emptiness, a void, where they should be. Nothing and nobody can ever take their place.

Grief hurts.

The Easter story acknowledges and is honest about the pain of loss, the pain of grief, the pain of death, but it goes beyond this. It offers hope. It offers a promise that death is not the end.

The Easter story is honest about the pain of grief, but it doesn’t leave us there.

Even nature doesn’t leave us in the bleakness of winter. Life is bursting out all over. There are newborn lambs, buds on the trees and glorious beauty of early flowers.

We are not left to mourn without hope.

“Amid the lilies and the candle-light”

The Hope of the Resurrection
Though I have watched so many mourners weep
O’er the real dead, in dull earth laid asleep—
Those dead seemed but the shadows of my days
That passed and left me in the sun’s bright rays.
Now though you go on smiling in the sun
Our love is slain, and love and you were one.
You are the first, you I have known so long,
Whose death was deadly, a tremendous wrong.

Therefore I seek the faith that sets it right
Amid the lilies and the candle-light.
I think on Heaven, for in that air so clear
We two may meet, confused and parted here.
Ah, when man’s dearest dies, ’tis then he goes
To that old balm that heals the centuries’ woes.
Then Christ’s wild cry in all the streets is rife:—
“I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
 

(Vachel Lindsay)

A whisper of hope

Many people find their faith changes as they journey through grief. The firm ground you stood on earlier might have been shaken by the earthquake of your bereavement. Perhaps it is has settled now, or perhaps you are still uncertain of what you believe.

Whatever the significance of these days for you at this moment, may the story of Easter mingled with the new life of spring bring you a whisper of hope.

It’s not always going to be winter. Spring follows.

It is not always the Saturday of pain. Sunday follows.

THE WAITING

How long oh God?
How long this shadow
This valley
This darkness?
How long this sorrow
This mourning?
How long until morning?

To ask is not to rage in unbelief
But to acknowledge grief
The sweet relief
Not of blaming but of naming
The ground I’m on
 
And out of this asking
A new song rises
I will trust
No matter how long

(Gerard Kelly)

A PRAYER

Lord God,
On the Sabbath,
Jesus rested.
He was in the grave.
He had finished his work.

To most people’s eyes,
It looked as if it were all over.
He was dead and buried.

But only as a seed dies when it is planted in the earth,
Not to decay, but to spring to new life.
Teach us to take refuge in you when we are afraid
Teach us that death is not our end

Teach us to hope always in you
And in the resurrection, the making of all things new.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

(Prayer author unknown)

Read more: Spring, Easter and new life

Lilies, my daughter Catherine’s favourite flowers. It is the 11th anniversary of her death this week (13 April 2022)

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