From time to time we read about or hear of the most inspiring stories of human endeavour, in which people have struggled through appalling tragedy to emerge triumphant. By virtue of outstanding courage, faith and sheer determination, they have managed to overcome the most daunting obstacles. Some have been prominent pioneers, such as explorers or social reformers. Probably most, however, are individuals in ordinary walks of life who have come up against overwhelming difficulty or personal tragedy, and yet have managed to win through.
A well-known example of indomitable perseverance is the classical composer Beethoven (born 250 years ago) whose whole life was challenged by physical and emotional difficulties, especially the onset of incurable deafness. In his despair he nevertheless vowed that he would confront fate: "It shall not wholly overcome me," he wrote. So he was able to give to the world the wealth of his music.
For a good number of us, the supreme example of the one who overcame is Jesus Christ. His whole life provides inspiration for the Christian, the pattern to which we aspire, our guide along the pathway of life. This coming week, in the lead-up to Easter, many will be thinking over the momentous events in the last week of Jesus’ mortal life as he took the painful road which ended at the cross. There had been hardships and challenges, as well as profound joy, during the three years of his ministry, but he knew that now he must face the greatest ordeal. Nonetheless, he found the strength willingly to fulfil the mission for which he had come.
To his followers at the time, it all appeared to end in dismal defeat, but they failed to grasp the underlying reality that in the eternal purposes of God, as the Bible makes clear, the cross becomes victory. This is the centre of the Christian gospel. Through surrendering his perfect life in unselfish love, Jesus triumphed over everything that had gone wrong, in the finality even over sin and death. The cross is the means of our being fully forgiven and eternally saved, if we choose to accept these divine gifts. The real message of Easter Day – the resurrection of Jesus to immortal glory – sets the seal on all that had happened before. Apparent tragedy becomes the greatest triumph of all. This is something we are invited to share. The Apostle Paul, in one of his New Testament writings, marvellously exclaims: ‘Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’
This time of the year encourages us to look back and consider deeply the events of two thousand years ago, and to look forward to the Lord’s promised coming again to transform for ever our suffering world.