s022g01 Somerton Park Good Friday 13/4/01
"You are not also one of his disciples, are you?" (Peter) denied it and said, "I am not." John 18:25.
In a lovely Lenten message from the South Australian Heads of Christian Churches this year, we are reminded of the significance of Good Friday and Easter in these words:
"On Good Friday, Christians around the world will fall silent before the memory of the Cross.
"The confronting image of this tortured man stripped and brought to death will become a transparent sign of divine love that knows no limits or conditions. In this moment all the power and compassion of God is emptied towards humanity in an act of solidarity and love. Here every broken heart, every lost life, every traveller and searcher, every refugee and bereaved lover is embraced and gathered back into communion with the Love which is their true home and the foundation of all human solidarity.
"On Easter Sunday those same Christians will rejoice in the memory that even death could not contain that exuberant love. It shattered the containment of the grave and burst brightly over the world as an eternal invitation to life. Every human person, whatever their origin, story or condition, is revealed as precious, desired by God with an astonishing and inexhaustible love. ...
"When the first Europeans touched the shores of Australia they were unaware of an ancient culture that placed the value of communion with creation and humanity at its centre. Here before them was a breath of the Spirit who had "breathed over creation" at the beginning, beckoning humankind back to the original communion that was God's plan. ...
"The desire for the communion that is God's plan for humanity lies deep in the consciousness of the Australian community and in the private aspirations of its people. ...
"In this sense the spiritualities and values that rest at the heart of Lent and Easter remain central to life in Australia, even though many people have loosened their connections to the formal religious communities that proclaim them."
I wish I had such eloquence!
This is a remarkable statement for I think it marks the first time I have seen an official Church document placing the pre-existent spiritualities and values of indigenous as well as secular Australians so close to the heart of the christian message of Good Friday and Easter. It is truly remarkable.
But perhaps it is a quirk of my character, but I want to ask the question "How?" Those who know me will appreciate that I don't question the conclusions in the slightest, but it seems to me that these fine but sweeping statements are expressed as an ideal flowing from the sacrifice of the Cross and the resurrection, rather than being demanded by those events.
Let me explain. The heads of the Churches represented in the drafting and promulgation of this statement are inevitably divided in their various traditions. It seems facile to be so sweeping in welcome to all people, yet so silent on the internal divisions inherent within the mainline denominations, let alone between them. Something is wrong. Either the sacrifice of Christ demands us be this inclusive, or inclusivity is simply an optional extra; much like many Anglicans might view "care for the environment" as good but peripheral. Others of course wouldn't view "care for the environment" in this way!
Until there is an appreciation that the love of Christ is ever the love of the other, whoever they are, whatever the faith they profess or not, whatever the manner of their lifestyle - the "easy" statements of inclusively can be relegated to the sidelines when we start debating the "important" matters at hand - the ordination of women, the place of episcopacy, lay presidency, sacramental verses hermeneutical verses contemplative verses political activism verses ecumenical ...
It is my conception that unless we have, right at the very core of our faith, the essential element that the love of Christ is ever the love of the other, none of these "important" things ever have a chance of being resolved, and the church is ever doomed to rehash them, again and again, to the neglect of seeing the good in others.
And so for me, this is the importance of my endless statements that Jesus was killed by the religious people because he associated with others. It was those who deny the spirituality of the indigenous and secular populace who would kill Jesus anew. And sadly some of these are ones who most vehemently call themselves "Christians".
And endless debate on some of these other issues will also "kill Jesus" because in effect the primary mission of Jesus to acknowledge the good in others will be lost.
Please let me say that of course I believe in the ordination of women. In many ways I would want to say that it is precisely the issue of the ordination of women which has proved the catalyst for a whole revolution in the way theology is done in recent times. If a church hasn't begun to think of the ordination of women, it is hardly likely to have thought beyond this - to the acceptance of indigenous and secular theologies.
So Jesus died, not to convince others to believe in him, but to show all people that Jesus believed in them - as our heads of churches statement expresses faith in the indigenous as well as the secular population.
For the Cross and resurrection is not just the ultimate invitation that people neglect at their eternal peril, it is actually the ultimate acceptance of who they are and the affirmation of the good they try to do and the communities they try to foster.
The Cross and resurrection is not the ultimate "carrot and stick" to get (of course - other) people to avoid any divergence from the narrow way. The Cross and resurrection is the invitation to us (we who call ourselves Christians) to see in others the goodness and grace of God.
The Cross and resurrection is not primarily a message for the world, the Cross and resurrection is a message for the Church. It is we, in the Church, who are presented with the choice of how to live our lives, just as Peter was repeatedly questioned if he were this man's disciple.
We too are, in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, presented with a choice. Just as the choice was put before Peter when he was asked: "You are not also one of his disciples, are you?" Following Jesus is always seeing the good in others not of our community of faith.
Otherwise why do we celebrate these events year by year, indeed Sunday by Sunday? If they are meant for others, one or two others certainly do come into our fellowship on occasions. But if there really is to be a change in the way the world operates, it is we whom God has as primary catalysts, not the occasional passer-by.
In this sense we will never gain anything personally from following Jesus. But in the broader sense we gain the whole world as people are encouraged and supported.
Peter had begun perhaps to realise that he wasn't going to gain anything from following Christ. Jesus was about to be killed because he lived for others. The faith of the religious leaders who killed him was a celebration of the supposed blessedness of the rich and powerful. Again we see that the Cross and resurrection is ever a message to the religious community, not the irreligious ...
We too like Peter may deny and deny again, but the love of God is ever persistent, as the Cross is eternally before our eyes. If Jesus died for these other people as well as for me, there must be something in their lives which makes this worthwhile. Perhaps it is well for us to look rather than try to convert.
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