Here is a parable for Easter. The world is at war. The British Isles are cloaked in darkness. Into the midst of this black night a German pilot, his aircraft disabled by hostile fire, bails out to save his life. Perhaps he prays as he plummets to the ground into the heart of enemy territory. Perhaps, as he struggles to release his parachute, he has a flashback image of the girl he left behind and dares not hope to see again. Minutes later his parachute becomes entangled in a tree, and he lies unconscious on the ground.
Dawn breaks. A young woman passes by. She is lost in thought. Her lover has asked her to marry him. She longs to say yes. But who can afford to celebrate a wedding in these dark days? Where will they find the ingredients for a wedding cake? Whatever could she wear for a bridal gown? Warning voices tell her to wait until the war is over—but who knows when that might be, and she loves him and longs to be his bride now…for tomorrow may never come.
And then her reverie is brutally interrupted. She almost stumbles over the German airman lying in her path. Her heart knows what she must do. She covers him gently with her coat and places her jersey under his head. There is still a pulse. There is still life. She fetches help. The casualty will be cared for—at least in his immediate need. Beyond that, who knows?
The next day her path takes her back past the spot where she found him. The torn parachute is still there, caught in the branches. She gazes at it but now, in her mind’s eye, she no longer sees a parachute hanging there in the tree but the possibility of a silk wedding gown, a gift from God. For the next weeks she spends every spare moment with her needle, painstakingly transforming an abandoned parachute into a uniquely beautiful wedding gown.
From his bed in the military hospital, a lonely young German airman, recovering from disaster, sees the bridal couple pass by. His heart leaps with a sudden surge of hope. This time next year, perhaps, he will be with his own young bride once more. He little guesses that this English bride is wearing his parachute.
This time next year! Easter is a time to look forward. Too often the Christian story is told backwards, as if it were solely about God’s rescue mission, God’s parachute, bailing us out of the wreckage of our sin. Easter is the time to change the direction of our gaze and see the rescue mission for what it can become: an invitation to participate in the great adventure of becoming the people God is dreaming we can be and of transforming planet Earth into the seedbed of God’s kingdom.
I was recently in Ireland with a friend. As we ambled along the country lanes, we saw our first lamb of the season, staggering around on its shaky, spindly legs. My friend turned to greet me with the traditional Irish prayer for such occasions: “Go mbeirimid beo ar an am seo aris,” which means, “May we still be alive when this time comes round again.”
It is a lovely way of praying that we might live to see another year, another springtime, another new beginning.
May we be alive when the first lamb of 2012 appears. May we be more than just alive—may we have grown, in the intervening year, a little closer to the fullness of life that Jesus incarnates. May the suffering people in all the world’s places of anguish be brought to new beginnings on the returning tides of hope and trust and love that Easter promises. And may we work and pray untiringly to make that hope a reality.
You might ask: But what can we do about these situations? Perhaps more than we think. The parachute in the story did not change overnight by magic into a bridal dress. The transformation took time, effort, energy, patience and perseverance, as the bride-to-be changed it, stitch by laborious stitch, into something radically new. God invites each of us to work at this transformation. We do it every time we speak or act in ways that increase, however slightly, the level of hope and trust and love in the world—by a word of encouragement, a small act of courage in confronting injustice, a refusal to join in the general grumbling about life that leads us and others down the track to despair and cynicism.
Stitch by stitch. Choice by choice. Moment by moment. These are the ways we are called to work with God to transform Good Friday into Eastertide.