One of the things I miss most about being a child are the stories my Nana used to tell. And she always had the best ones at Easter.
While we weren’t (and still aren’t) an evangelical Christian family, we were raised Catholic. And for my Nana, faith was vastly important. Even as I got older and started to develop my own questions about the Church, I never directly challenged her beliefs. Because Nan’s faith was what got her through the death of a child who was taken far too young, the unexpected passing of her brother, and the heartbreaking death of her husband.
Easter was the time Nana’s faith seemed strongest, and she always said it was the most important time of the year. “What about Christmas?”, I would ask, confused as to why the significance of a holiday wasn’t directly correlated with the amount of presents I received. But she would patiently explain that Jesus’ death and resurrection were the most meaningful parts of Christianity.
Nana would tell us about the inner conflict experienced by Pontius Pilate, and the compassion of Mary Magdalene. She’d tell us about the thieves who were crucified alongside Jesus, and the devastation felt by Mary and Joseph at the loss of their only son. It was a multifaceted story with so many characters and settings and plot lines. Every year there seemed to be some detail I had previously missed, that would add a whole new layer to the story.
If Nana were still around today, I have no doubt she'd be intricately recounting the stations of the cross to any eager young minds willing to listen. By now, they'd be her great grandchildren rather than her grandchildren.
But this Easter, there's generally not a positive feeling around religiosity.
In the wake of the recent terror attack in Brussels, a lot of people are disillusioned with organised religion. “To everyone who suggests that we pray for ?#?Brussels?, more religion is not the answer to this problem," read a viral Facebook post on the issue. Many people think religion is useless in times of profound tragedy, and that in some cases, it causes the tragedy in the first place.
But for me the story of Easter, and the messages my Nana took away from it, are more relevant than ever before.
What Easter really meant to Nana was that death wasn't the end. When she spoke about Jesus' resurrection, her face lit up, because to her it meant that somewhere, sometime, she would be with her son again. She'd have her husband back. She'd see her brother.
And to me this is a comforting thought at a time of such profound tragedy. That the people whose lives were meaninglessly lost in Brussels will see their loved ones again is uplifting, regardless of whether it's true.
The other message Nana took from the story of Easter was forgiveness. Nan had a lot of experience with forgiveness. Her son died at 21 from Addison's disease, a treatable condition which should have been detected by the multiple doctors she took him to. Her brother died in a windsurfing accident. He was swimming, and was struck by a windsurfer.
For Nana, it was so powerful that Jesus could forgive Pontius Pilate, the Roman soldiers, the Jewish Pharisees, and the angry mobs who rallied against him. Laying on the cross, naked and dying, he said "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
That's what Nan took away from Easter. The importance of forgiveness as an act that liberates you. And the hope that death isn't the end.
If you take the story of Easter just as a story, and nothing more, it's a story of forgiveness and hope. And regardless of whether you're Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or athiest, it's forgiveness and hope we need in times of tragedy.
So today on Easter Sunday, it's my Nan, her stories, and her unwavering faith in them, that I'll be missing.