“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it”
This message from John’s Gospel seems an appropriate one on which to reflect as part of our celebration of Easter. The Good News of the Christian faith is this: in Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, and even life over death.
In our school’s local church, Our Lady and the English Martyrs (OLEM), and in many others around the world on the eve of Easter, a single Easter candle is carried in to a darkened church as Christians celebrate ‘Christ our light’ risen from death.
The single candle gives an impressive amount of light when in absolute darkness, and then the flame of the Easter candle is passed on to light the candles held by all those in the congregation, symbolising the love of God and the joyful message of the resurrection: the light isn’t diluted or dimmed as it is shared, rather it grows greater and, as one of the great Easter prayers says, dispels the darkness of the night and makes the night as bright as day.
This idea of the resurrection being like light pushing away the darkness is powerful. Christians believe that whatever darkness they might experience in their lives, whether large or small, infrequent or long-term, God will bring light into the situation when the time is right. Christians also believe it is an important part of living out their faith to bring light into other people’s lives. If things are gloomy or difficult we each have two choices: we can either add to the gloom, or we can be a light for other people that spreads even beyond our immediate circle. Something as simple as a smile can almost literally brighten up a room filled with strangers.
We see so many examples of regular people making extraordinary differences to the lives of others, even in devastating circumstances.
When we read, watch, or hear about terrible events occurring across the country and the world, we need to guard against being overwhelmed with despair. By making a point of seeking out and celebrating those individuals whose actions bring light into such dark situations we are able to better deal with such atrocities.
For instance, among the updates about the recent attack in Westminster, I read about boxing coaches who were leaving a meeting and a junior Foreign Office minister who rushed to the aid of PC Palmer; nurses and doctors who ran from St Thomas's Hospital to the bridge to tend to the wounded; and a number of junior doctors doing the same from a meeting nearby. In Syria, it might be ongoing dedication and sacrifice made by the volunteers who make up the Syrian Civil Defence, or the white helmets as they have come to be known.
At the end of March the BBC aired a programme in which Syrians were interviewed about why they are hopeful. People returning to their home towns, which might have been completely flattened, said they were “so happy because the shooting has stopped here". Similarly, nurses and doctors in an intensive care unit spoke about the terrible suffering of the children, but went on to describe how wonderful it is and how filled with hope they are every time one child is able to leave intensive care.
Of course none of these examples naively negates the murder and destruction or intolerable suffering of individuals, families or communities. But it is so important to seek out stories such as these as well. Instead of becoming fixated on asking the question ‘where does all this evil come from?’, we have no choice but to move our thinking forward and to also ask ‘where does all this goodness come from?’.
Closer to home we see light among dark situations through the work of organisations ranging from Hope into Action, which provides homes for vulnerable members of our society, to local Foodbanks, which provide food throughout the year to families who are struggling to make ends meet. In the week before Christmas, the Foodbanks go the extra mile and work to provide Christmas hampers with essentials for a more traditional Christmas meal and treats for the family, in a bid to brighten up the season for these families.
We also think of the many people we know who regularly lighten up our lives at times of pain or difficulty, and the many ways in which we all can, and do, brighten up the lives of others in so many ways – from simply thanking people for their hard and sometimes ‘thankless’ work, to unexpected generosity towards those who have less than us.
At this time of year, with the four day Easter weekend and blossom all around as spring is now fully established, I’m reminded of a quote often attributed to Martin Luther (16th century Protestant reformer): “The promise of the resurrection is on every leaf in springtime.” As we celebrate the Easter weekend let us respond by celebrating those individuals who bring light to the darker situations around the world, and by considering how we can brighten up the lives of those we work, live and come into contact with in our communities over the coming term.
The Christians among us will recall St Paul’s encouragement that “as a joyful Easter people, beloved by God, we should be characterised by compassion, kindness and humility, gentleness and patience, forgiveness and love, thankfulness and praise” – I think this is excellent advice to us all whether of Christian or other faith, or of secular belief.