Lahore

I first heard the news from Lahore while I was prepping my sermon for Sunday, just before I came across a quote from Frederick Buechner:

“Even though he said the greater blessing is for those who can believe without seeing, it’s hard to imagine that there’s a believer anywhere who wouldn’t have traded places with Thomas, given the chance, and seen that face and heard that voice and touched those ruined hands.”

It’s near impossible not to have sympathy for this when you hear of children slaughtered by a suicide bomber while celebrating Easter, impossible not to want to see those ruined hands reaching out to show that the world isn’t doomed to hopelessness and violence.

And there are no words that feel adequate, it feels more appropriate to sit in silence. But that silence can be damning when we lit up monuments in the light of attacks on Brussels and Paris.

We share a common humanity, and I share a common faith with many of the victims, and I can’t offer anything more than scribblings on a blog and an affirmation that those murdered yesterday are my brothers and sisters in humanity, my brothers and sisters in faith. And offer thoughts and prayers for those going through hell right now.

And through the bonds of that shared humanity, may we all hope and pray and work and fight for peace; may a shattered world be made new.

Reclaiming Easter 4: Easter Sunday

(This is one post in four parts… Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

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Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed!

It’s a joyful bit of liturgy that’s been proclaimed this morning, that will be proclaimed this morning, all across the timezones as we move from shadow into light.

This is the day that, as the church, we need to grasp onto as if our lives depended on it. Not just our eternal lives – we do Christ as disservice if we treat him as nothing more than a business transaction, an insurance policy for our soul – but every day in the everyday.

That means living in hope, which sounds trite sometimes, especially when a pessimistic blogger types it. But this whole series has been about proclaiming Easter, reclaiming it from our power struggles and our greed, our selfishness and our prejudice. And that hope is rooted in resurrection – a one time event 2,000 years ago, sure, but also all the other resurrections that branch out of it. We’ve made ‘born again’ a label, an identifier, a tribal password, and in doing so we’ve gutted its power.

Across the world there are thousands of community gardens and youth clubs and food banks and baby groups and homeless shelters and refuges, places and spaces where the transformative power of a phrase like ‘born again’ is life, not a label.

These are corporate things, of course, but they grow out of millions of changed lives. That’s the only place it can start; Jesus and us, standing outside an empty tomb. And there’s a danger of getting too comfortable with this story, a danger of it turning into something political and legalistic rather than letting it get into our hearts and our bones, rather than seeing it as being about redemption and resuscitation and rebuilding, creativity and community and creation.

Maybe we need to spend more time trying to be more like Jesus than in trying to make other people look like the messed up Jesus of our stunted imaginations.

And that starts early in the morning, in front of a tomb that should be full but is mysteriously, miraculously empty. And that quiet voice whispers behind us; the garden bursts into bloom; life begins anew.

And we, not just Easter, are reclaimed.

Reclaiming Easter 3: Holy Saturday

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(This is one post in four parts… Part 1, Part 2, Part 4.)

Part of reclaiming Easter, of following Jesus, of crucifying the sins of Christendom, is honesty.

Honesty about what’s going on in our lives, honesty about our weakness (and our strength), honesty about our failings (and our triumphs), honesty about where we stand with Jesus and his teachings. You can’t lie to the omniscient, so let’s imagine that’s a feature, not a bug.

Holy Saturday is a great place to start this. You’ve got to be honest on Holy Saturday. Liturgically, Jesus is in the tomb, Sunday hasn’t got here yet, we’re sitting with the grief and doubt and pain of Good Friday and sunrise over the garden seems so far away.

There are many people sitting in our congregations who have seen the light of Sunday, but right now it seems like Saturday. They’re suffering bereavement. They’re suffering depression. Their addictions or their debt or their stress is overwhelming. She’s punched on a regular basis but people are trying to keep them together. He’s putting on a brave face but he can see how easy it would be to start the car engine but not open the garage door. The bills keep piling up. The cancer is aggressive.

There is hope. Of course there is, we have to believe that Sunday’s coming. But sometimes starting with Sunday just reduces everything to platitudes. Sometimes it’s a disservice to do anything but sit with the grief and the pain for a while, to acknowledge it and cry out to God and walk with people in their suffering.

Job’s friends, in the midst of catastrophe, rock up with ‘answers’ and make the whole thing worse. It’s the honesty that leads to healing. There are times when we need to check our privilege, throw away the sanctified self-help books and be honest about those agonising pauses when it feels like Jesus is still in the tomb. We reclaim Easter when we’re honest about the pain rather than pretending it’s all chocolate and bunnies.

It’s a dead end to stay with Saturday though. There is hope. There is a future. And when we’re weeping in the graveyard, we might just hear a familiar whispered voice behind us….

(Continued tomorrow.)

Reclaiming Easter 2: Good Friday

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(This is one post in four parts – Part 1, Part 3, Part 4.)

So if the church has a desire for power or ignores the poor,  when it participates in hate and when it perpetuates abuse, it crucifies its Lord all over again.

I hate this. I loathe the child abuse and the ‘God hates fags’ signs. At its worst, the church has a nasty habit of punching down, which it can only do from a position of power. And, as everyone who loves a cliche knows, power corrupts.

Ironically, Good Friday is a case in point. Religious and political power structures, conspiracies and the mob’s thirst for blood all combine to send Jesus stumbling towards Calvary. And if you think it’d turn out differently in 21st century Britain (or America, or Australia, or…) then you’re more optimistic than I am.

Good Friday shows how Easter is reclaimed by laying down all the things that get in its way. The Son of God sets heaven aside for a cross. He sets power aside for a vicious beating. He sets worship aside and ends up hanging next to a couple of dying revolutionaries. And yet in doing so, he brings salvation.

This is a choice we have to make. Maybe not execution (although check your privilege and think about those living under ISIS), but death to self, death to power, death to violence, death to hard. That’s an individual choice, but it’s also corporate. All those choices mushed up together turn into the church, and we want the world to see that as the Body of Christ, not a zombified corpse with no resemblance to Jesus. We can be the thief who, slowly dying, continues to hurl anger and bile, or we can be the thief who asks for, and receives, the forgiveness of God.

Or, to put it another way, Jesus needs to be our Saviour,  not just our mascot.

“A king who dies on the Cross,” Dietrich Bonhoffer once noted, “must be the king of a rather strange kingdom.” That forces us to ssk a question: What kingdom do we really want to live in?

Before we do that, we need to look down and see what’s in our hands.

Are we carrying a cross?

Or are we carrying nails and a hammer?

(Continued tomorrow….)

Reclaiming Easter 1: Maundy Thursday

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(This is one post in four parts… Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.)

I’m worried. I’m worried I’ve lost Easter. I’m worried we’ve lost Easter.

Today, apparently, as it’s Maundy Thursday, the Pope is going to wash the feet of refugees. I was moved by that –  think about where those feet have walked, think about what those people have seen. There can’t be many more groups as dehumanised and othered as refugees, and do I’m glad the Pope is going to be their servant. It’s a Christlike attitude, one I need to take root in my own hard heart.

But our churches are now so big. The contemporary Christian book deals and recording contracts are so lucrative. Look at our lighting rigs, our sound system, the artisan coffee bars in our foyers. Excellence is something to strive for, but are we using Maundy Thursday metrics? Do we kneel and wash feet every day, or as part of a one-day ritual.

There was a lot of heat a few months ago about “the War on Christmas”. I’m not sure there’s a comparable secular assault on Easter, but maybe that’s because we’re looking for the wrong battle. If Easter is about servanthood and compassion, grace and sacrifice, then the battle is against anything that works counter to those. The desire for power and the promotion of prejudice, the chains of legalism and a willingness to exploit the weak… These are some of the sins that worm their way into the church. These are the things from which we need to reclaim Easter.

Maybe we need to save Easter from ourselves.

(Continued tomorrow)