St. George’s Day

The Victory of Saint George by Arsen Birch

It’s fair to say that I’m fairly ambivalent about St. George’s Day. “Englishness” is a slippery concept at the best of times, and St. George has, over the years, been co-opted as a symbol of nationalism and civic ritual, and  that makes me twitchy. Too many bad things end up getting wrapped in a flag.

But maybe St. George works as an icon for modern Britain. After all, once you scratch away the myths, he’s a multicultural figure – born in Turkey to Greek parents, with most of his life lived in Palestine. And then there’s his death, martyred by the Emperor Diocletian for his beliefs.

So I’m okay with St. George’s Day as long as we remember that our national saint was a Near Eastern victim of religious oppression. That’s the sort of context that has the potential to rewrite the narratives wired into our flags.

But then it’s also worth remembering that St. George doesn’t belong to England; we share him with Georgia and Ethiopia, soldiers and farmers, sufferers of skin diseases and syphilis. The Church transcends borders – connecting a white blogger in Derby with a Turkish soldier from 1,700 years ago. That has the potential to break down some of the barriers we’re so keen to put up. We are all siblings of Christ, regardless of background or race or the flag we live under.

So if we’re the product of the stories we tell, let’s tell good ones; there are many dragons still to be slain, some of our own making, and so may we overcome the dragons that divide us; may we find room for all people in our stories and our churches.

St. George the Dragon Slayer by Mikhail Vasilievich Nesterov

Christ the Gardener

Christ Appears to Mary Magdalene as a Gardener

Easter always makes me think of gardens.

This year it’s the garden at church. A while back it was an overgrown wasteland, a forest of brambles, needles and empty bottles in the heart of a city. It wasn’t dead, exactly, but it was a wilderness, a no-man’s-land. It wasn’t a nice patch of urban wildflowers; thorns choked back any semblance of healthy life and, just to emphasize the irony of all this, it used to be a burial ground. As metaphors go, this is pretty on the nose; we exist in a world tangled up in rage and corruption and oppression. Feels like we’re trapped there most of the time.

But the garden at church isn’t a wilderness anymore. People have put in months of work to make it a garden again, planting and digging and weeding. It’s turning into a place that people can visit again. It’s been reborn. It’s been resurrected.

“Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact,” a great philosopher once said, “But maybe everything that dies some day comes back.”

On that first Easter morning, Mary meets the risen Jesus but she first mistakes him for a gardener, and while that was mistaken identity in the midst of grief it was also prophetic, because she recognised the creator, the healer, the Gardener who replants Eden, the Carpenter who builds the Kingdom of God, the one who, in his resurrection, resurrects everything else.

That’s something I struggle to hold on to. The garden feels more like a wasteland. But at the core of everything is a moment that allows all things to be reborn. Maybe not immediately; maybe the garden is just soil full of seeds at the moment, maybe new life slumbers beneath the surface for the winter. But the garden isn’t a wilderness any more. Hope can be reborn, faith, peace, love. If Good Friday was a spiritual tear in the world, Easter Sunday makes that tear into a doorway.

A doorway we can walk through, into a garden.

A Tear in Everything (Good Friday)

There’s a tear in everything.

Jesus dies, God dies, and the earth shakes and rips itself apart.

And the veil between the living and the dead is slashed open and holy ones who were once dead are now raised to life and praising in the streets.

And the curtain in the Temple is ripped in two, the barrier to the holiest place on Earth now wide open.

And time and space are confused as darkness falls too early.

The Creator and Sustainer of the universe dies, and in that moment things unravel. The grubby politics and the brutal-but-calculated execution have inadvertently stabbed a hole in the cosmos, and through this wound a soldier glimpses the truth.

I used to think the curtain in the Temple was a thick, dark, black thing. But in reality it was red and blue, purple and white, representing fire and air, water and air. So when it tears, it speaks to this world – a world of grass and glass, trees and concrete – being exposed to the world of the divine and holy, of God and angels. That was always something to be feared.

But if there’s a wound in the world, then it’s one through which healing can come. The last time the heavens opened, God announced that Jesus was his Son. This time, the truth is uttered by a man steeped in blood, but it’s the truth nevertheless. Of all the wounds this Centurion has seen, this is the one that saves the world. After all, there was never meant to be a barrier between us and God. “There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in,” sang Leonard Cohen. On Good Friday, that’s more true than ever.

There’s a wound in the world, but beyond the bruises and the nails, it’s a wound that heals.

And in the silence of a tomb, the healing begins.