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18 April 2014

Good Friday: This is not the end

Good Friday: This is not the end

I can't even begin to imagine what horror it must be to hold the dead, lifeless body of someone you have loved.

As South African athlete Oscar Pistorius – who denies killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp - continues to stand trial for her murder, we hear his agonising heart-wrenching sobs from the stand – and these sounds take this tragedy from distant dramatic script to corporeal reality. Though the story makes for salacious newspaper fodder, ultimately at the centre of it all is the body of a victim of either a cruel mistake, or a deliberate death at the hands of a rage-filled perpetrator of domestic violence. Reeva is a woman who had up until that moment been a living, breathing, sentient being.

For the families of the passengers of Malaysia Airlines MH370 it is the limbo they have been plunged into because they have as yet been unable to recover the bodies of their loved ones that surely must make the grief even more excruciating. And as I write, many of the relatives of the 475 passengers and crew aboard a ferry that capsized in South Korea on Wednesday face an agonising wait as rescuers fight the wind and waves to recover the bodies – dead or alive.

However painful it is to see the dead body of a loved one, to walk past the casket, to lay your eyes on them for one last time; there is finality in it. There is closure. They really are gone.

"They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him," Mary Magdalene weeps as she stands outside the tomb, having discovered Jesus's body is no longer there. She is distraught; because his body is gone without her having said her final goodbyes. It is the premature separation that hurts so much.

For Jesus's followers, his broken body doesn't just symbolise the end of a friendship – the death of someone they admired and loved – but the defeat of Israel's hopes and dreams.

"It is finished," Jesus had said as he took his last breaths on the cross. And so as far as the disciples were concerned, it was all over.

But maybe they had an inkling there was something more. Maybe this was not the end, after all. 

For when we watch our loved ones take their final breaths, when we hold their bodies, when we walk past the casket, there is a finality to it, yes. But at the same time we become more aware than ever that we are not in fact our bodies; that there was an essence of the person we loved that wasn't confined by the material.

We realise that death might in fact be the start of something else.

This is not the end.

Some of you might recognise these words from the Mumford & Sons' Sigh No More. As another of the band's songs goes: "In these bodies, we will live, in these bodies we will die."

We see in the dead that life is more than the material. That there must be more than this.

"Awake, my soul. Awake, my soul. You were made to meet your maker," they sing.

There is more to come. Jesus's body, broken for us, is not the end of the story.

Because we know that three days after his death will come not just a new beginning of things, but the true start. The way it was meant to be. The start of a restored relationship with the Creator of all things; the sacrifice having been made, the temple rebuilt, the veil torn in two. Everything transformed.

Life in Technicolor.

Chine Mbubaegbu, head of media & communications, Evangelical Alliance