Somehow I thought things would become simpler as I became older, but it appears that the opposite is true. Perhaps because I have lived longer and know more people, I experience more of hopes and disappointments and illnesses. I feel and see others feeling joy and love and pain and disappointment. Rarely, if ever, do these events happen in isolation. Often, good and bad and everything in-between come at us all at once.
I am reminded of this as I prepare for Holy Week, a week already filled with our faith’s life and death, greatest joy and greatest sorrow. My birthday is on Good Friday, something I have not been looking forward to. How does one celebrate on the day Jesus died? I could attend a Tenebrae service and then stop for ice cream on the way home. Or perhaps I could pound a nail into the cross and then blow out candles on a three layer cake? Or combine the Tenebrae with the candles on the cake, blowing them out one by one? I’m not seriously suggesting that. It seems sacrilegious to celebrate anything. But I am left wondering: how is it that joy and grief so often appear in the same moments?
No matter, I reasoned: keep it low key for in two years my birthday will be on Easter Sunday. Joy! Or so I thought. I had been under the impression that if my birthday was on a Sunday, it was on Easter Sunday. That actually happened three times in eleven years from 1983 to 1994. I did a little search, and it turns out that my Easter birthdays are over until 2067 (I will be 94, God willing). And, for the first half of my life I have only had one Good Friday birthday, in 1980. But, thanks to the lunar calendar, I will experience four more between the ages of 64 and 90, God willing. Looks like I’m going to have to figure out how to handle this Good Friday/birthday combo.
This is a reflection of life: a life filled with learning of a relative’s serious illness on the same day your daughter gets an award she has been working tirelessly for. Seasons in which treasured friendships shatter at the same time new ones begin to sprout. A country where grocery shelves are full and yet people starve. A time when newspapers write of peace accords in one place and genocide in another. A faith where the Savior is welcomed with fanfare and then crucified just days later. Endless examples of great highs and horrific lows. What to make of it all?
I appreciate these thoughts by Claire McKeever-Burgett: “Don’t get me wrong, I do not think suffering is required for joy to manifest itself in our lives. Rather, I simply state what I know: if we live in this world, we will suffer, pain will find us, our hearts will break. At the same time, if we live in this world, our hearts will mend… and somehow we will have the capacity to receive and hold both.” For me, it is the Resurrection that gives us the ability to “hold both.” Faith that the impossible can happen. New life is born. Suffering will not win.
So, on my birthday I do plan to both eat cake and attend a Good Friday service. I want to spend time with my family and laugh. I will stare at the cross and grieve. I will wonder how it is all possible. I will show up hopefully on Easter Sunday remembering that God is in each moment. Thanks be to God for the mystery of it all.
*The above quote is from the March/April 2015 issue of Alive Now Magazine.