I think it’s fair to say I’ve struggled with my faith after losing Etta and if I’m truly honest before that too. I was only reading the bible at a church service or when teaching a lesson/assembly at school and my prayers were somewhat formulaic (thank you, sorry, please). I could probably do a whole blog post on mine and Sam’s faith during Etta’s short life but needless to say that our biggest prayer wasn’t answered. At the moment we can’t fathom a reason for that. That’s been tough- both theologically and emotionally for us.
With that in mind, I thought I would focus on how the message of Easter has become more meaningful after Etta has died and brought up some strange emotions and thoughts too!
‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’John 3:15
I must have heard and read that verse from John hundreds of times and yet for the first time I was thinking about the pain in that message. God’s pain in sending His only son to die. Mary’s pain at the foot of the cross watching her firstborn son being tortured. Jesus’s physical, emotional and spiritual pain on the cross. My own experiences certainly brought home the pain of Good Friday this year.
On Good Friday, the first strange thought I had was ‘Jesus didn’t have any morphine’- the pain is unimaginable. And I cried wondering how much pain and suffering Etta endured in her short life. I know there would have been some. I cried thinking of God’s decision to let His son die for the sake of others and I was reminded of how painful it was when we had to choose when the life support was stopped to end Etta’s life. The nod from the nurse to tell us ‘it is finished’. And I cried thinking not only of Jesus’s immense physical pain but of his emotional pain of being separated from His God and His father too.
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’Matthew 27:46
I know that our daughter was held in our arms and surrounded by so much love when she died. She was treated with so much respect and tenderness by everyone around her. That couldn’t be further from Jesus’s experience and it brought home the huge sacrifice God made for us who didn’t even deserve it.
Although… then the next strange thought came up. I was a bit jealous of God. God knew that Jesus was going to be resurrected in a few days. Sadly, I knew that when we returned to the morgue the next day we weren’t going to find empty grave clothes. She was still swaddled in her blanket.
If I reflect on this jealousy, what it comes down to is that God knew without doubt that He would be reunited with his son again and that death had been defeated. Could I hand on heart say that I had that same faith? Would I see Etta again? Suddenly the idea of resurrection was seeming a lot less abstract.
‘O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?’1 Corinthians 15:55-57
In the week before Etta died, I was really comforted by imagining her in her Granny’s arms in heaven. (Sam’s mum passed away from cancer 10 years ago). I know for some people heaven and angels are a comforting idea. There are a lot of platitudes banded around when somebody dies, especially when it’s a baby or child. “God needed another angel” or “Heaven lent them to Earth for a short time”. I’m not here to criticise what others might find comforting but for me that wasn’t enough. Fluffy sentimental quotes weren’t really going to cut it. My hope needed to be founded on something more solid than that.
Because death really does sting. Witnessing death certainly took away some of its power but the truth remains that we are still hurt deeply when it happens. However, it’s possible that death doesn’t need to be victorious. Of course the message of Easter Sunday is just that- Jesus had risen from the dead- he came back to life on Earth for a short while before finally returning to God in heaven. Death has been conquered. As a Christian, that certainly makes me less afraid of death and renewed a desire in me to really understand that message of hope and eternal life. Even if none of it is true (which I know many of you reading will think is the case) Etta is no longer in any pain and never will be again and she will never fear death. That’s enough for me too.
It can be all too easy to focus on Easter as only the Sunday- a celebration of new life with Easter eggs, joyful hymns and maybe a roast with family. However, now I feel like I have a new appreciation of the whole weekend and especially Easter Saturday. Those that loved Jesus would have been heartbroken and confused, unaware or unsure of the miraculous events that would follow. Easter Saturday might resonate with those who are currently suffering. It’s OK to dwell in our grief and think about the devastation of yesterday. It’s OK to dwell in our grief and consider today’s disappointments and anxieties. It’s OK to dwell in our grief and not even want to enter tomorrow’s narrative of new life. But that doesn’t take away the fact that tomorrow will happen. And with that comes a message of hope like no other.
So I will continue to pray… even though I’m not sure that prayer works.
I will continue to be thankful… even though I’m angry at what I don’t have.
I will continue to believe… even when life seems so fragile and uncertain.
I will continue to hope… because I trust in God’s love.
Happy Easter, Sad Easter, Hopeful Easter ✝️