It's Good Friday – Light will overcome the darkness because it always does

Kirsty Boden

Not for nothing, I guess, are nurses like Kirsty Boden sometimes called angels (Image: PA)

During this strange, locked-down Holy Week as we approach Easter, I've been remembering a young Australian nurse called Kirsty Boden. I never met Kirsty, but like me you might well remember her from the news almost three years ago.

On the night of Saturday, June 3, 2017, she went for supper with friends on the south side of London Bridge, just next to Southwark Cathedral.

As they laughed, chatted and drank wine just after 10pm, there was an almighty crash from the bridge above them and masonry rained down on the restaurant.

Screams of terror replaced laughter and the diners instinctively fled for safety.

But not Kirsty.

One of her friends remembers her saying: "I'm a nurse. I have to try to help."

And she headed for the bridge.

She found a waiter from the restaurant, Alexandre Pigeard, mortally wounded in a pool of blood and rushed to his aid.

He'd been stabbed.

As she bent over him, his attackers, who had leapt from their crashed white van, set about Kirsty.

She died shortly afterwards of her stab wounds.

Kirsty was 28-years-old; Alexandre was 26.

They were just two of the eight who were butchered that night, as summer evening fun turned to unimaginable horror in a matter of seconds.

Those who loved Kirsty will no doubt wish for ever that she had run for safety with the others.

As for Alexandre, I like to think – no, to hope and pray – that the last thing he knew of this world was not the hideous brutality and darkness of the hate that killed him, but the selfless and loving act of a stranger who joined him at the end.

Not for nothing, I guess, are nurses sometimes called angels.

As the world has been gripped this week by a very different kind of terror, inflicted not by murderous fanatics but by a similarly indiscriminate virus, we might dwell on those countless thousands who, like Kirsty, have run towards danger on behalf of us all, rather than away to protect themselves.

The paramedics, nurses, doctors, support staff and all the emergency services – not to mention the 750,000 (at the last count) who volunteered in the UK to work in solidarity with our desperately overstretched NHS – are the extraordinary kind of people who put themselves in harm's way, and their own lives on the line, for the rest of us, who they don't even know.

Why do they do it?

Duty is a word that we reach for at these times and it's true that we are blessed with all these exceptional people who feel a duty to serve, best summed up perhaps by those final words of Kirsty's: "I'm a nurse. I have to try to help."

But duty may only go so far as contractual obligation.

It's what they signed up for; it goes with the territory.

There's something else going on here and we struggle to name it.

We know, because history tells us, how true it is that a light shines in humanity that can never be overcome by darkness.

And if that sounds Biblical, it's meant to – because this is Good Friday.

This is the time in our Christian story when it gets darkest.

And the darkest hour comes before the dawn of Easter, when Mary Magdalene (running towards danger?) finds an empty tomb and is the first to bathe in the light of the Resurrection and is the first to break the breath-taking news that death is not an end.

But in the story so far, on Good Friday, Jesus of Nazareth has abandoned the relative safety of home, the rural communities of Galilee and suburban Bethany to take on the wealthy and powerful of Jerusalem.

The city is at its busiest as it prepares for the Jewish Festival of Passover and political tensions are on a knife-edge, as this trouble-making Nazarene prophet rides on a donkey into the belly of the Roman beast.

He deliberately heads towards danger.

Claiming a higher authority – one vested in love and compassion – He defies the violent oppressors of his time, calls out the law-makers for being liars and hypocrites and throws the fraudsters out of the Temple.

He points to another way of living – by self-sacrifice and loving our neighbours.

He shines a lone light of hope into the darkness of Jerusalem.

And they arrest, torture and kill Him for it.

Kirsty Boden funeral

The hundreds remembering Kirsty Boden who gave her life to help others (Image: PA)

The tyrant can only rule by force.

The thug's only weapon is violence.

The terrorist only has hate.

But this gospel story shows that there's an infinitely stronger power, one that lays its life down for friends, one that puts itself in harm's way for those it loves, that runs towards danger to save others, that kneels by a stricken stranger and brings comfort.

It's a love that shines in the darkness – and the darkness can't overcome it.

Day after day during this vicious pandemic, those who refuse to put their own safety and health before that of others, who defy infection or take is as it comes, who continue to run towards mortal danger, honour this tradition.

Kirsty Boden's memorial programme

Kirsty Boden's memorial programme (Image: PA)

But, more than that, they honour the person who founded that tradition.

In the Christian perspective, they serve the Christ.

And in doing so they become Christ-like.

Please don't misunderstand me.

I don't seek to claim for the Christian faith all – or indeed any – of those who work so tirelessly to expunge this killer disease from our lives.

Christians should be careful about where they encounter the Christ – by which I mean they won't always encounter Him among Christians.

Our faith is truly a miracle that works for everyone.

Nonetheless, Christians are entitled to view the human condition through the prism of our story, without compromising the stories of others.

Today, Good Friday, the story is at its darkest.

It's about cruelty, brutality and the randomness of death and darkness.

But light will come again with that new dawn, if not on this Easter Sunday morning.

And our lives will again be transformed into something new.

More than that, Easter tells us that death itself is defeated, that however wretchedly a death might happen – and it doesn't come much worse than being nailed to a wooden cross and left in the heat to die – there is one who can turn it around and transform its ugliness into beauty.

And it's a gift that comes free.

It doesn't take tough guy politics.

This is not a war – Covid-19 doesn't "invade" because it knows no borders.

We can't build a wall to keep it out.

But what will cure us are the lights that shine in the darkness, those who serve in humility, running towards danger to help or just sitting at home to protect others.

As I sit alone today in a 900-year-old church, which has survived plagues down the ages, I know this Good Friday that nothing – not even death – can overcome what Kirsty shone three years ago and what so many of her fellow professionals shine today.

• The Reverend George Pitcher is Rector of the Parish of Waldron in East Sussex.

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