Sharing our sufferings
The bombing of concertgoers in Manchester, many of whom were young people, has shocked and saddened people around the world. The tragedy has touched so many lives, the images of the victims beaming with innocence remind us that it could have been us or our children attending some gathering filled with hope and excitement, the joy of a shared experience enjoyed by thousands of others.
This dreadful event reminds me that, some years ago, I visited the city of Caen in Normandy, France which had suffered devastating bombing in the battle to liberate it during the Normandy landings. The city had been the scene of fierce fighting as the retreating forces resisted the invasion resulting in 70% of the ancient city being destroyed and 2,000 civilian lives being lost.
Photographs which formed part of an exhibition in the Eglise Saint-Jean portrayed the extent of the devastation of what once had been a beautiful Norman city. The rubble surrounding those ruins gave no clues as to the buildings which had for hundreds of years stood and been the home for countless generations of Caen’s citizens. The destruction of the buildings pointed to the great loss of life and the trauma suffered by those who had survived the battle for the city.
The Eglise Saint-Jean had been restored to its former beauty but the exhibition bore testimony to the cost of conflict and the pain inflicted upon its residents. It was easy to see why those who had lost so much would be resentful of those who had caused this devastation by bombing the city and why there had been a warning that Britons were less welcome here than in other parts of France.
However, there was further evidence of the battle on a wall of the church, the remains of a carved wooden statue of Christ. Apparently, the SS had set fire to the original cross on which the statue had hung, an act of deliberate vandalism. The fire had destroyed most of the statue, all that was left was the carved noble head and the charred remains of the torso with an open chest cavity created by the flames.
Underneath this sorrowful image someone had written of the way in which this battered statue symbolised Christ’s sharing in our sufferings, the statue having been “re-crucified”.
Over the years since that visit to Caen I have on numerous occasions thought about that statue, it is a powerful reminder that in all our sufferings God shares with us. The image is one which speaks beyond the suffering of the citizens of Caen, beyond those who suffered in seeking to liberate it and those who suffered in resisting the invasion.
Suffering comes in many ways, it is part of our humanity to experience physical, mental and emotional suffering. In our pain we often have a sense of isolation, a feeling that no one understands yet the history of the Church is filled with those who have found that in all our sufferings there is One Who not only understands but shares in them.
Yet this knowledge should be more than a solace: it should be a guard against thoughtlessly or wilfully hurting our fellow human beings.
We live in a world which is divided in so many ways, such as through racial, social, geographic, economic, political, and religious differences. Yet it is not those divisions in themselves that separate humanity, it is our attitudes, words and actions. It is a sad indictment of our human nature that we allow such differences to be the source of conflict which inevitably leads to suffering. We cannot avoid conflict on our own, as the saying goes 'for war, one side is enough; for peace you need two', however, we can strive to prevent discord and set an example of Christ like living.
Eric Southwick is a non-stipendiary minister at Stanley Street Independent Methodist Church, Seaham, County Durham.
Photo credit for the Caen cross: Patty Guimont.