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Saturday, 6 September 2014

on finding hope in a crucified crim


Reading:              John 6:37-40

Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’

When someone that we know as John wrote down a whole lot of Jesus sayings and wove them into the book we know as “John” or the “Fourth Gospel” he did so because he wanted his listeners (for such they were) to encounter the awe and the mystery and the hope and the joy that he had encountered in loving and serving one the Romans felt was no more than a crucified crim, but who he and his companions though had in some mysterious way overcome that most horrendous of deaths, not by not dying, but by dying and rising again.

Of course in a scientific rational world in which we love we know that dead friends don’t come bopping back a few days later. We are human: we wish with all our heart that they could or world, but the silent space they leave behind remains silent, the empty chairs and empty tables remain empty, and the ache of a human heart goes on. In our world we readily mock silly people who talk to their imaginary friend and hope things will get better.

Actually they did when John was writing, too. They didn’t really think that loved ones came back and sat at the table where we last saw them, even then. They weren’t dumb. Yet something had changed for them, and it was something so powerful that they were prepared to die for it. They felt that in the experience of worshipping and loving and serving the now unseen crucified, dead Jesus – and sceptics then would refer to them too as silly people who had an imaginary friend – in loving and serving and worshipping this person (that few if any of them had actually ever seen) they found supremely powerful hope. They found hope for themselves. They found hope for their friends – friends who they had shared life and love with but who now were dead – and they found and felt hope for their world.

They remembered Jesus talking about something called resurrection, and they felt his presence so powerfully in their worship and in getting together to pray and eat and sing that they began to understand what he had meant. They came to believe passionately that sadness and loss and even death were not the end, though they remain a passage through which they and we and those they loved and those we love must pass. They came to believe, against all the cynicism around them that even death was just a parenthesis, a break in transmission, a kind of brutal loss but yet one which would not end the experiences of love and fellowship.  People then talked about silly Christians and their Imaginary Friend, but slowly the compassion and the love and the hope the Christian community demonstrated began to attract others, too.

Sometimes in our rational world it’s hard to believe all that stuff. And yet every now and again I experience something so uncannily irrational, so utterly powerful in its rumouring of a life beyond the merely here and now, that I cling as those first Christians did to this weird thing called Christian belief. Through three and a half decades now it’s seen me through some pretty interesting times, and given me powerful experiences of love and hope and joy along the way. So I guess I get what those first Christians were on about as they remembered their loved ones, hoped for them in Christ, and dedicated their lives to believing in Jesus.

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