As the ship slipped from the dry-dock in the Belfast shipyards early in April 1912, it was proclaimed as the “unsinkable Titanic“. Within two weeks it lay at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The unthinkable had happened.
Titanic, the ultimate in early twentieth century engineering, and the icon to human achievement, had proved to be as stable as a child’s origami yacht in a paddling pool. The difference is that the child knows better than to call his little boat ‘unsinkable.’
Many of the 1514 who died in this tragedy (out of the 2223 on board), are now hailed as heroes. Whereas those men who clamoured for the limited space on lifeboats (there were lifeboats for only 1178), lived the rest of their lives labelled as cowards, and were (with their decendants even today) treated accordingly.
One hundred years on, the accounts of this tragedy praise the actions of (among others) the band who played Nearer My God to Thee in the ship’s last minutes, the engineers who stayed working at their posts to ensure that the ship stayed alight and the dining room staff, all of whom died that night.
The grounding of the Costa Concordia in January shocked us with a similar sudden shift from one minute’s fine dining in opulent surroundings, to destruction and death.
The message is clear. Nothing that we can create is stable enough to give the security that we need.
Since the days of the tower of Babel, humans have tried to surpass God in strength and might, in power and endurance. We are slow learners since every historical attempt to assert human greatness in this way has come to nothing.
We know this only too well in Christchurch: so much that represented our city’s security, soundly built in stone, or on the sought-after hill suburbs, has collapsed.
Such unexpected vulnerability is also a part of the rhythm of daily life. The young healthy sports person dies (while the overweight smoker turns 100). The perfect relationship dissolves. The reliable friend lets us down. The ideal boss ‘lays-off’ the trusted employee.
Yet it is right that the human person yearns for security and stability. We are made for this.
As we mark this tragic centenary anniversary, and live in the reality of earthly vulnerability, we receive our hope in the reality and security of the Easter triumph of Jesus over death. Our greatest reality is that if we live in harmony with God, in friendship with Jesus, we have nothing to fear.