Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reminded how a lot of days of celebration have sad associations for some people. Christmas is well-known for being a time which people can find difficult, particularly for people who have been bereaved, or have experienced the breakdown of a relationship. If this is ignored, it can leave people excluded, and the celebrations can be very insensitive.
More recently, we acknowledged similar issues in our worship on Mothering Sunday. It can be a mix of emotions for people who have no children, have a difficult relationship with their mother (or with their children) or whose mother has died. By moving the focus back to Mothering Sunday, rather than ‘Mothers Day’, we concentrated on how the church community can share in the love of God together, regardless of our human circumstances.
However, as we look forward to Holy Week and Easter, we may be conscious of situations of suffering around our world. Over the last few months we have witnessed conflict in Syria and other locations, natural disasters, and the ongoing struggle to feed people in parts of the world affected by drought or conflict. Many might ask where is God, and what can we celebrate in such circumstances?
When Christians observe Good Friday, they are entering into another tragic story, which has affected millions of people. As people think and pray about Jesus' death, they often have a strong sense of identifying with the pain Jesus knew. But a much greater identification is taking place. Good Friday tells us that God is not watching the events of this world like a news broadcast from a far away place. In Jesus he shows us that he is involved - present with us. The mystery of human suffering is that we are not cushioned from all harm; we can hurt each other and we can hurt ourselves. The promise of Good Friday is that our God is one who is with us, who knows our experiences first hand, and can be the inspiration by which lives can be healed and rebuilt.
Of course, Easter brings its joy and celebration of death defeated and suffering overcome. But what goes before is neither forgotten, nor is it there to spoil the party; it is all part of a bigger picture. Through Jesus, God shares our sorrows and our joys, and depending on our recent experiences, different parts of that story will make their connections with us. The important thing is that whatever you are feeling, you are not excluded.