Every now and again something happens that can jolt us out of our entrapment in the busy-ness of our lives; lives that are self-focussed on mostly small things and worries many of which generally don’t come to pass. This can happen when some event or incident drags us into the reality of what is actually significant, what is actually important, what really matters. I experienced such an event recently that suddenly brought a reality check, A Reality wrapped in a Paradox.
The trigger was something very simple – it was a photograph that really confronted me as I turned the page of a British newspaper magazine. The photograph was of two refugees fleeing from the war in Ukraine. It shows a man and his young son watching as two other men buried the body of their wife and mother, yet another victim of the war in the Ukraine, a woman who must have been quite young. No funeral, no celebration of the woman’s life, no supporting family and friends around, just a basic burial in a lonely makeshift roadside grave.
The confronting thought was of the unimaginable pain and grief that the man and his son must be experiencing as they watched the burial of their wife and mother.
The picture was one of darkness, of pain, grief and loss, but then I noticed something else in the picture, a Paradox; a glint of light in their darkness, a spark of hope in their despair. On the mound of earth to be used to fill the grave, there was a Cross, a symbol of hope, a reminder of the Cross that stood outside Jerusalem on that first Good Friday; a Cross that stood in darkness, pain and grief but which in the Resurrection that followed also stood for Hope; that opened up the gate to Heaven.
As surveys show, there are many in our own times who lack Hope, who are trapped in an agony of their own circumstances: serious illness, bereavement, financial stress, uncertainty as to the source of their next meal, homelessness, anxiety, depression etc. Then there are the hundreds fleeing the war in Ukraine, and the millions stuck in refugee camps around the world, many without much hope of getting to a better country.
The Paradox of the Cross is that it is simultaneously a symbol of death (Crosses stand on millions of graves around the world) but also of life; a symbol that death has been overcome in the Resurrection of Easter Sunday, and for those who embrace its Promise, a symbol of an unlosable, beyond death Destiny.
The Paradox of the Cross is that it is the gateway to Hope in the midst of despair; a Paradox that stands in a time of mourning, tears, grief and death with the promise of a certain destiny where-
“every tear will be wiped from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”
The photograph showed the Paradox of a man and his young son standing in unfathomable grief, while at the same time standing as a beacon of promised of Hope even as they walked “through the darkest valley’’.
The confronting reality is a question. When we too have to walk through our own ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death’ as we certainly will – have we grasped the Paradox of the Cross, and its promise of Hope, for ourselves.