(commissioned for the Mid-Cheshire Circuit of the Methodist Church in the UK, for March 31st 2021 - Humanity into eternity or Death into Life - this is a personal reflection of the author) Read by Andrew Pratt - click here This week leads us up to the excitement of Easter Sunday, but to get there we need to get through Good Friday. Far from the hymn language of ‘glorious scars’ and a ‘wondrous cross’ this day is almost impossible for me. You see, I do not believe in a vindictive God who sacrifices his Son. I do trust, through faith, in the incarnation – God being human. The language we use to explain this enigma is taut, strained – a baby in a manger, ‘the Word made flesh’. But if this is our starting point then it is God who hung on a cross on that first ‘good Friday’. I cannot cope with some vast plan of salvation that requires the sacrifice of a child, even an adult child. What I can understand is a God of love, from whom we can never be separated (Romans 8, 38). So where does that leave us? For me Jesus embodies God’s love completely. Such love has to be totally selfless and this is what I see in Jesus. It is the sort of love that challenges all hypocrisy, injustice and indignity to which we are exposed, and which we still experience. But there is a problem here. The moment we start to love those whom others do not, or cannot, love we become a threat to them. We either have to acknowledge that love and ally ourselves with it, or ignore it, oppose it. We are inherently selfish. Humanly we seek our own preservation. That is a biological imperative. So when Jesus challenged the powers, those around him by challenging their economy, their culture it was threatening. You remember the story of Jesus turning over the tables of the money-changers? But they were only going about their normal business. Or his emphasis on the importance of the widow’s tiny gift; surely the gifts of the rich were more important? Or again, when he paused to heal a woman, whom religion said was unclean, who had touched him in the crowd. And he had been called to heal the daughter of a leader of the synagogue! His priorities seemed all wrong. In all these ways it felt as if he was a threat to the culture and religion, the very economy of the people. He was a threat to their way of life. How they behaved was no different from how we, in similar situations, behave today. They and we behave, literally, naturally. And Jesus response was the only possible response of complete and utter, unconditional, all-inclusive love: that is forgiveness – ‘forgive them for they literally don’t know what they’re doing’! And we, for all our protestations, are so often no different. And the cross becomes wondrous, not as some great theological bargain, or the culmination of a cosmic plan of sacrifice, but in the revelation of the nature of total love that we are called to follow. And the human response to this call to love, because of all the sacrifice it requires us to make, is at best half-hearted, at worst vicious, for here, in our neighbour ‘spurned, derided God is dying… Tortured, beaten, scarred and tainted, not a picture deftly painted, more a tattered, battered being, torn, disfigured, stark, unseeing. Muscles twisted, strained, contorted, body dangling, bruised, distorted. Life blood drying, sun-baked, stinging, hatred, bitter hatred, flinging. Crowds insensate, tempers vented, full of anger, discontented. Curses scattered, insults flying, spurned, derided, God is dying.
And the world is shrouded in darkness, inevitably for in darkness we cannot see. If God is dead this really is the end. And this is why theologians, then and now, you and I, seek to explain away this horror. Yet Jurgen Moltmann, some years ago in a book which still deserves to be read, The Crucified God, sees the cross as the test of all that deserves to be called Christian, rather than the resurrection. Here we see God’s utter love and willingness to be vulnerable, even unto death in order to be one with us, in order not to deny love even for those who killed him. And the scandal and uniqueness is that gods are not meant to die! Wondrous love! Wondrous God, indeed! Love divine, all loves excelling! ********************* So where does that leave us on that wonderful dawn of Easter Sunday, when round the world people will greet the sunrise with hallelujahs? Firstly, that death is not the end! NOT THE END OF LOVE! An empty tomb was not, in the first instance, assuring. Read what Mark says: ‘Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid’ (Mark 16, 8). In another gospel Jesus, mistaken for a gardener speaks: He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” (John 20: 15-16) Jesus continues …’Do not hold on to me...’ (John 20: 17). The language is that of leaving and, for the moment we put aside the stories of Jesus appearing to other disciples, women and men, the ongoing message is one of ‘what next’? And the answer of the gospels and Acts is not the recollection of a dead God but the continuing active living out in humanity of the sort of life that Jesus showed was possible for every human being, that risky life of utter love of neighbour of every race or creed, of those like us and unlike us so that as Brian Wren wrote, ‘there’s a Spirit in the air…when a hungry child is fed’. And yet in this past year it has taken those outside of government and the church to prompt those of power to remember that simple message. Resurrection was not a one off theological ‘thing’ but comes about every time someone Christian, or other, offers a simple gift of love. For me this reality came about after an operation when, in its aftermath, a nurse, whose name I do not know, put her hand on my shoulder saying, ‘it will pass’…and the sun streamed in the window: Each hour marks a mighty resurrection, a time of overcoming fate and fear, the dawning of a common understanding in which the grace of God is drawing near. Each morning brings a sense of new creation. New life, new love, encompasses the earth. New time, new light illuminates the distance, as though the world is coming, fresh, to birth. Each evening brings a stunning revelation, as stars and planets hove into our view, beyond imagination and reflection, these scattered bangles flung against the blue. Each season brings a sense of co-existence, relatedness of heartbeat, rhythm, rhyme; and every year the cycle goes on spinning, affirming faith and love through endless time.
Reflection, text and audio: Andrew Pratt; Poems: Andrew E Pratt © Stainer & Bell Ltd; Paintings: © Andrew Pratt from Words, Images and Imagination.