Someone once described life as a dance, two partners moving in rhythm to the music. As I reflect on this image, I see particular beauty in it. Two people doing the opposite together. As one dancer moves forward, the other moves backwards. Occasionally their movements demonstrate individual flair, but they inevitably return to partner one another.
I see life as a dance in so many ways, where ecstasy and pain pirouette around one another, yet somehow sharing a common purpose. We do not readily embrace the so-called darker aspects of life: moments of despair, depression, struggle, angst. But in the dance, the opposites are essential: they add a beauty and rhythm expressing much of the human condition.
Following the extremely premature birth of our third child, we were warned by staff that we were about to enter the “roller coaster ride of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit”. The ensuing months would be punctuated alternately by moments of deep despair and elation, as we oscillated between positive developments, and staring death in the face. There were many times where words could not be spoken, tears the only expression. These were inevitably, linked to times of deep joy, as obstacles were overcome and progress identified. It continues as such.
The week beginning Palm Sunday is a roller-coaster week of events, beginning with the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It is tempting to skip directly to the eighth day - Resurrection Sunday - without entering the depths of struggle of the events of Thursday and Friday. For many it seems incongruous to be maudlin about such things – after all, we do know the outcome! And yet they are essential to our understanding of the two days which bracket this celebration. The words of an old song “Would you cherish loving arms if you’d never shed a tear? Would you welcome coming home if you’d never been away?” remind us that, though we do not eagerly embrace the darker moments of life, they do provide the soil for understanding life’s beauty.
To leap straight from Palm Sunday to Easter Day robs life of much of its realism, reducing it to a feel-good inhumanity. We do need to learn to pause and acknowledge the pain before it can ever hope to become the seed of something beautiful.
Good Friday saw the collapse of many hopes and dreams. Peter living with thoughts of his last act of denial; Judas of betrayal; the other disciples of their unwillingness to hold to their convictions. Until that point they’d bet everything on Jesus. In reflection on Jesus’ humiliation and suffering, they learnt the true price of being faithful to God. It was a foundational lesson for them.
In that context, the resurrection stands as God’s vindication of Jesus, of the cause for which he died, and for all who reach the point of absolute despair. To truly live, we must embrace, if not welcome, the darker partner in the dance.
April 4, 2004