Every crisis can be an opportunity to learn

Every crisis can be an opportunity to learn A couple show off their crosses made of palm as they leave Clonard Monastery in Belfast following Palm Sunday Mass, March 28, after restrictions were lifted in the North. Photo: Hugh Russell.
It would be a shame if after all the sacrifices of Covid-19 we went back to where we were beforehand, writes Archbishop Eamon Martin

The first performances of Handel’s Messiah were in Fishamble Street, Dublin, in 1742 and so many people wanted tickets that the organisers asked the ladies to come without hoops in their skirts and the men not to bring their swords. Messiah is perhaps the best-known choral work of all time. It tells the greatest story ever told – the story of our salvation – from the Old Testament prophecies to the resurrection and looking forward to the second coming of Christ at the end of time.

Many people tend to think of Christmas when they hear about Handel’s Messiah. Others like to listen to it during Holy Week – especially to hear those stirring words: “He was despised, rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”. My favourite time to listen to Handel’s Messiah is during Easter Week, because especially at Easter time the whole Christian story makes sense and reaches its climax. I particularly like to celebrate the resurrection by turning up the volume and letting rip the great Hallelujah chorus – “For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth; King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Hallelujah!”

Asking which is the most appropriate time to listen to Handel’s Messiah is like asking whether Christmas or Easter is the greatest Christian feast. You can’t have one without the other. Our creed, or profession of faith, makes that clear: We believe in the only Son of God, who was born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, who was crucified died and was buried, and who rose again on the third day.

The central message of our faith is that God loved us so much that he was prepared to come into this world as one like us, to experience the terrible darkness of evil that is in our world and then, having experienced the worst that our world could do, to conquer that evil by rising from the dead.

Although we are an Easter people, it is important for us always to keep in mind the whole story of our salvation: to know that our God understands suffering. Because for so many people in our world, it is as if they are caught in the grief of Calvary. In our troubled world the cross of Good Friday casts a long shadow – from the hungry lands of Yemen and northern Nigeria, to those caught up in conflict and violence in South Sudan and Myanmar, to those struggling to cope with the ravages of Covid-19 throughout the world.


If the story of salvation had ended on Good Friday, we would be a people of despair crying out as Jesus did on the Cross: “my God, my God why have you abandoned us?” The Gospel tells us that at the moment of the crucifixion a darkness came over the whole land. When Mary, Peter and John came to the tomb on Easter morning, it was still dark, for they had not yet experienced the resurrection. Mary seems abandoned as she came running to Peter saying “They have taken my Lord out of the tomb and I don’t know where they have put him.”

For so many people today, that feeling of darkness, abandonment and emptiness is very real. It is comforting for them to know that Jesus also felt rejected, abandoned, almost swallowed up by evil before the victory of Easter destroyed death and restored life. But we are an Easter people. We believe in the resurrection.

It would be such a shame if, after all the sacrifices and restrictions of Covid-19, we went straight back to where we were beforehand. If we look at things as Easter people, with eyes of hope and faith, then every crisis can be an opportunity to learn about ourselves, about others and the world. God is constantly at work in history, and God’s Word shines light on all the experiences of our lives – good and bad. God is constantly inviting us, though suffering, to change for the better.

We pray that our faith can be strengthened by the special grace of this season, and that we can find hope in meditating on the whole story of our salvation – the story of Messiah, the Lord of Lords, the King of kings who conquered suffering, sin and death by rising from the dead. Christ is truly risen. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!