Dear Sister and Brothers in the Woodard Community,
I wish you the peace and joy of our Risen Saviour and his abundant blessings!
Lent has felt like a real wilderness this year. Uniquely. I’ve found myself pondering the story of the Lord’s temptations, his struggle with materialism, with power and with what is worthy of worship. It seems to me that in the wilderness Jesus learnt his vocation as he learnt the values life was worth living by.
And a feature of that narrative has come home to me over the past few weeks with great power. Jesus, according to the Gospels, was driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit, by the Holy Spirit who has appeared at his Baptism. In other words God himself was behind this isolation, this aloneness, this separation. And remember – the great temptations come after Jesus has already been isolated for forty days. For him and for us these days are long and hard.
But if the Spirit is behind all this could it be that we, in our current isolation, should be looking for the ways in which God is present so that we too might discern our true vocation and the values it is worth living our lives by?
An American Headteacher in Austin, California, has reminded her community of the opportunities these times gift us. “I believe that all of us have a strong desire to spend more time with our loved ones and yet, we become consumed by the busyness of life,” she wrote. “This may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend quality, uninterrupted time with your children—please use it to make lifelong memories together.”
On Maundy Thursday, as on every Thursday, at the time when I would have been washing feet in church people came out on their balconies and terraces and front gardens, or looked out from their windows and began to applaud, simply applaud, as a way of thanking medical practitioners and first responders and the NHS, the people who are literally putting their lives on the line for others. Sometimes the applause then moves into song. In the absence of normal rituals, new rituals are created. We instinctively admire in others the values we would like to live by.
Across the world people are washing each other’s feet in homes between family members, and in the spaces between homes where groceries are left on door steps, on the internet where people support and sustain each other. People are washing each other’s feet in hospitals and in care homes, in the staff and, I think, also in the patients. This unnamed but very real foot washing is very advanced and widespread. You will see it in supermarkets and in city parks where people keep their distance, not primarily out of fear of contagion, but out of the proper exercise of love. “I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (John 13.15)”.
We cannot see the death of Jesus for what it really was – and is – without seeing it, as the first Christians did, in the light of his resurrection. The two belong inseparably together. From one point of view they are events in the past, things which happened once for all. But what happened once for all to Jesus is happening all the time, happening to us and to our world. For in the death and resurrection of Jesus we see a conflict and a victory which are still going on now, a conflict and a victory in which we can see the deepest meaning of our own lives.
St Paul talks about Christ reigning until he has put all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor 15.25). The drama of Christ’s warfare is not yet over. He must reign, said St Paul, until all his enemies are vanquished. We are living in that until time. Final victory is indeed assured. What happened on the first Easter morning can never be undone. But Christ’s conflict, his struggle, his warfare, still goes on in us and in our world. In us Christ is still being crucified and raised from the dead.
Of what, then, does this conflict and victory consist?
It can take innumerable forms and be put in all sorts of ways. So you will have to supplement what I offer from your own experience.
But, as I see it, Christ’s conflict and victory can be described like this:
it is mercy, the mercy which gets spat upon and kicked, victorious over brutality;
it is generosity, the generosity which goes on giving, victorious over all that is mean-hearted and close-fisted;
it is peace, the peace which entered into hostility and venom, victorious over strife;
it is love, the love which made itself vulnerable and suffered, victorious over hatred and cold-heartedness;
it is the deep satisfaction of meaning, of purpose fulfilled, victorious over emptiness and despair.
And it is in and among ourselves now that mercy struggles with brutality, generosity with meanness, peace with strife, love with hatred and cold-heartedness, meaning and purposefulness with emptiness and despair.
In everything we are and everything we do, we are caught up in this drama of Christ. We are not spectators of his death and resurrection. We are involved in them up to the hilt. In us and among us what is creative is doing battle with what is destructive. This is the only way to make sense of so much that is happening in our world – for evil is for ever taking goodness on.
Mercy, generosity, peace, love… these are the characteristics of those washed clean in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7.14). There is nothing of what we are which cannot be used to bring the power of Christ’s resurrection to bear upon this world.
How easy it is, as we undergo these unprecedented times, to focus on what we have lost or what looms as an uncertain future, both being out of our control. What we do have is the opportunity to make the most of what we have—life, and the world as it is, and ourselves as we hope to become.
With my affection and my prayers,