Friday, 25 March 2016

Stations of the Cross (3) Jesus Dies

And so, upon the cross as a young man years before his time – isn’t that what people might say? – Jesus dies – or as the King James’ version of the bible euphemistically puts it: He gave up the ghost.

I’ve only been present at one person’s death.  Ralph was a very old member of the congregation I served in Hertfordshire at Hitchin.  One Saturday lunchtime just as the bangers and mash had been placed on the table his daughter phoned to say Dad was failing fast could I come down and pray with him – she felt as if he was hanging on for a final prayer.  I went, I prayed and immediately I said Amen Ralph died.  One of the greatest privileges of these last 29 years of ministry.

As Jesus died the evangelists in the gospels record it all went dark, the veil in the temple separating the holiest place from the rest was mysteriously ripped in two and some writers even say tombs were opened and the dead walked free.

Perhaps it’s Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s way of saying this was no ordinary death.

Yet in so many ways that’s exactly what it was.  It was the death of a beloved son.  It was the death of a good friend.  It was the death of a young man with so much more to give. 

Because in dying Jesus really does share our living.  He shares our life, birth and death.  For part of the beauty of this Jesus is his humanity.  Not his separateness from us, not his ‘otherness’ but the shared humanity we have in common.  Like us, like all humanity in every time and every place, Jesus dies.

I was once in the art department of our local school and the teacher showed me the Holy Week poster they had produced that year for the churches of our town.  These were students whose brief was to design a picture of Good Friday.  So that’s what they did – they imagined Jesus dying and what they came up with looked pretty bleak, sad and quite frankly life like.  Yet that was the poster displayed that year in hundreds of house windows and church notice boards. 

I couldn’t help but contrast it with art installation crucifix I’d seen that week at the local cathedral.  It was life size and striking.  Shocking too in its own way, and perhaps most of all because it was covered in gold.  Its message was not so much the pain of death for the human Jesus but the triumph of death for the divine Son of God.

Art is never neutral – it makes a point and has a message.

I’m more and more drawn to the humanity of Jesus and in it see something utterly beautiful.  That we are all made in the image of God and that to separate the human from the divine brings all sorts of unhelpful divisions.

Today as we remember Jesus’ death – the sadness it caused, the grief it prompted, the hollowness it created – why can we not also remember Ralph’s, our parents, husband’s, wife’s, son or daughter’s, friend or colleagues. 

Jesus – God – shares our living and our dying. Life and death are sanctified, hallowed, given deeper sense and purpose by God.

Death is a great mystery and I sometimes think silence is the only response.  But perhaps trust is a better one. 

To trust in God’s love and to place ourselves and those we love – at the moment of death – into the love of God.

Or as a shepherd boy walking around Bethlehem once put it:
Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, for thy rod and they staff they comfort me.

Prayer: by Cardinal Newman;

May he support us all the day long, till the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over and our work is done. 
Then in his mercy may he give us a safe lodging and a holy rest and peace at the last.

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