Between The Dark And The Daylight

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Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door. — Emily Dickinson

When I was a student I went on a mission trip to South Africa. As you come out of Cape Town airport, an incredible sight awaits you. Towering in the background are beautiful, snow-capped mountains, breathtaking in their beauty and majesty. At the bottom of the mountains lies a shanty town — a huge jungle of ramshackle wooden shacks with no proper sanitation or regular rubbish collection.

I found it difficult to comprehend how such natural splendour and such man-made squalor could co-exist. It seemed as though the view of the mountains should be diminished by the shanty town, or the wooden shacks somehow enhanced by the mountains. But both mountains and shacks existed in a kind of mutual acceptance. Neither was more or less than it was.

It was a visceral reminder that although we like to classify things as either good or bad, life is almost never that straight forward. Mostly everything, including ourselves, comes as a mixture— the beautiful and the terrible; the failure with the success; the joy and the heartbreak; the peace and the chaos; the tragedy and the triumph. Even Jesus, who was wholly good, didn’t get to experience only the good in life.

This weekend is Palm Sunday, when we remember one of Jesus’ better times. He rode into Jerusalem on a handpicked donkey, surrounded by his best friends, while adoring crowds cheered and waved palm branches in recognition and approval, blessing the one ‘who comes in the name of the Lord.’ By our standards, this was his biggest success yet — Jesus was at the height of his celebrity and fame.

But the story doesn’t finish here, as we know. What seems like the pinnacle of Jesus’ popularity is actually the turning point in the narrative. After this episode, the pace picks up rapidly, speeding towards the moment of his death. The friends who rode with Jesus abandon him and the crowds, who couldn’t get enough of him before, shout for his crucifixion. Ultimately, he dies an excruciating death, alone on the cross.

Darkness covers the earth and all appears to be lost.

Yet even here the story does not end. There is another twist in the tale and Jesus’ most terrible moment of agony and despair becomes the very thing that caused his greatest ever triumph — victory over death itself.

The Easter story, like all the best stories, reminds us that not everything is always as it seems. What looks like an ending often holds within it the seeds of a new beginning. The places we feel tender and fragile often help us to find a strength we didn’t know we possessed. The seasons we spend feeling buried and unseen are working nourishment and deep roots into us so we can flourish at just the right moment.

As people of the resurrection, we hold both suffering and joy in our hands. We don’t try to hide from pain. We name it and sit with it, letting it be what it is. We also notice and acknowledge what is good and beautiful. We recognise it and give thanks for it. We keep rolling away stones and opening doors in search of new life.

Because, as Emily Dickinson wrote, you never know when you might discover a new dawn.