I used to minister at a church
where, after a midweek Mass it was the custom to give a little iced cake to any
member of the congregation whose birthday had been celebrated in the previous
Perhaps it was a bit silly, but we
would all sing “happy birthday” as the cake was carried over for the single
candle to be blown out. Because, despite your age it was always one candle!
And so, I wasn’t surprised when on
a particular Wednesday close to my birthday, a cake started to move towards me
whilst everybody began singing “happy birthday.” I blew the single candle out
with a gusty puff, but to my surprise, it came alight again! I thought nothing
of it, and just blew again. It went out, and then, it came alight once more! I
must have repeated this, three or four times before I realised that people were
What they’d done, of course, was to
put one of those trick candles onto the cake. You just can’t blow them out, and
I think you probably have to snuff them out with your fingers or something. Anyway,
they all thought it was hugely funny.
And all of this came into my mind
as I sat in church later in the year after the Evening Mass of the Lord’s
Supper on Maundy Thursday. The Blessed
Sacrament had been transferred to the place of repose and many people were
sitting quietly, watching with Jesus. Perhaps struggling to stay awake in the
same way that the first disciples did when they watched with him in the Garden
After some time, a colleague of
mine went to the altar, and one by one, he put most of the candles out. I was
sitting right at the back of the darkened church, and its effect was very
powerful. As the flames went out it was a strong reminder of what had happened
in that garden at Gethsemane 2000 years ago. A reminder that the light of Jesus
was going to die. He was going to be taken away from the garden and put to
death. Like the candles, his life was going to be snuffed out.
He’d just given his friends a way
of knowing how much he loved them; he’d just washed their feet. He was their
leader and their master, but he loved them so much that he was prepared to do
the most menial of tasks for them. And he was prepared to throw his life away
in love for them.
We left the church in silence and
went home, where I sat and turned these things over in my mind. I can remember
thinking that the candles which had been extinguished; those candles which
reminded me of the life of Jesus, would, like my cake candle, burst back into
life again, and what a surprise that must have been to those who were the first
This thought seemed to be at one
with the truth that love is the strongest thing in the world.
Love is stronger than death, and
anyone who’s lost a loved one certainly knows that. You don’t stop loving
someone just because they’ve died. The love lives on, and the Christian belief
is that it’s a part of God’s plan to re-unite us with all those whom we
continue to love, and from whom for a while, we’re separated.
If you listen to the theologians,
they’ll tell you lots of things about the meaning of the death and resurrection
of Jesus. But if we’re honest, much of what they have to tell us is sometimes
very hard to get our heads around. And so, I want to share with you, one or two
thoughts which have helped me, and which I hope are easier to understand,
because of our own experience.
First of all, if you love someone
deeply then you’re going to suffer. Death will always separate you eventually,
and the more you love, the more hurt you’ll feel. But true love is always
prepared to suffer. You won’t welcome it, but you’ll accept it. Is there a
parent here today who wouldn’t suffer anything for the good of their children?
So, when we look at the cross, we
can see the great love of God displayed in the suffering and dyeing Jesus.
God loves us, each one of us, so much,
that in Jesus, he’s prepared to suffer and die for us. You too, may find this
to be a helpful way of looking at the death of Jesus as a measure of God’s love
And we can believe that this love
of God passed right through death and came back through the crucified and risen
Jesus to show himself to those who loved him. Those first friends of Jesus were
neither simpletons nor liars. Most of them went to their death for proclaiming
the resurrection of Jesus.
Like the candles, love doesn’t die,
and in the resurrection of Jesus we have a very deep proof of this.
We shan’t know, this side of death,
why God had to create the world in the way that he did. We can never really
understand the reasons for suffering and death. It’s sometimes hard to believe
that God loves us in the face of all of the suffering that we see in our world.
But because Jesus passed right
through death, we can see that death and suffering don’t have the last word.
Jesus comes to us in many ways today, and because of the resurrection, he can
live in us, with a presence which will change us, sometimes slowly and
sometimes quickly, into the kind of human being which God intends us to be.
What happened to Jesus in our time,
will happen to us at the end of time, and we shall have a resurrection body
like his. God’s love has conquered death; we are redeemed, and for us eternal
life has already started. The shape of that life in the world to come isn’t for
us to know. It’s enough to know that whatever the God who has demonstrated his
love through the death and resurrection of Jesus, has prepared for us, will be
for our very best.
And we can be very sure that all
those whom we love will be with us in God’s new world redeemed and recreated by
May God continue to bless you all this Easter time, and may you continue to grow in Christ.