We are an Easter People!
As we approach Palm Sunday, Rev Suzanne Cooke explains why Christians could consider themselves to be Easter People.
Traditionally for Christians, the run up to Easter, Lent, is the time when we examine ourselves, maybe even deny ourselves a little, create some time and space and use that space to grow closer to God. For some it’s a penitential time, a time when we look more closely at how we fall short of who God would have us aspire to be.
It’s an inescapable fact that as priests in the Church of England many people, rightly, have high expectations of who they think we are, of who I am. And I often wonder if people, optimistically, expect us to have some kind of constant hotline to God, an overwhelmingly close and transformational relationship with Christ, and the ability to serenely pray our way through the ups and downs of life’s rocky road.
Well, let me let you all into a little secret - life for us too can become overwhelming, and the God we love and have committed our lives to can seem silent and a long way off.
In my benefice this Lent we’ve been thinking about Job, and the more time I spend getting to know this book the more I realise I have a certain empathy with Job. I can’t help but feel compassion with Job as he struggles with loving God –understanding and appreciating how great God is and yet feeling abandoned and angry with the situation he finds himself in. We have no idea what the time scale of the book is - it may be that Job was in this dark, dark place for a very long time. It’s no wonder that he felt the deepest sense of despair, a despair that I think is often echoed in and by the people we encounter in our lives.
I have been struck recently by Stephen Fry’s outburst on the Gaye Burne show, when he was asked why he was an atheist and what he would say to God if he met him at the Pearly Gates. His anger at God struck a chord with me as I thought that his words gave a voice to many in modern society, who either have no relationship or time for God or those who feel they don’t deserve the hand they have been dealt as they watch those ‘less deserving’ folk thrive and breeze along, apparently enjoying an easy life.
We have all encountered people whose life has taken them to dark places and who feel themselves justified, as Job did, in feeling despair and anger at God, who feel abandoned by all that is good in our world.
Stephen Fry, in his interview, was particularly angry at why children should suffer with bone cancer. Job’s friends where so initially overwhelmed by the situation that engulfed their friend that their response was to sit with him in silence for seven days. Suffice it to say that there are many who can understand and sympathise with Fry’s anger and dismay.
I’ve heard it said that we are an “Easter people”. But what might that mean to someone who thinks they have no reason to believe in the healing power of Christ? What, in the face of such innocent suffering, does our Christian faith have to offer us, to offer them?
I believe the essence of our Christian story lies in the profound truth that we create beauty, transformation and wholeness out of death, brokenness and despair. We are an Easter people! We are a people who believe that hope resides even in the most hopeless of situations, even in the deepest pits of despair.
And this is because in our darkest moments we can choose to turn to the face of Christ and know that the inescapable pain of being human can become the very moment we are transformed, the very moment we come closest to the God who loves us unconditionally, the very moment we can be overcome by the healing, loving power of God through Jesus Christ.
I cannot presume to change the minds and hearts of those who may have heard these words many times before. But I have an honest faith in the truth and power of God’s transformational love, and I can only hope that my life might witness to this one overwhelmingly wonderful fact.
Rev Suzanne Cooke is the priest-in-charge of the Upper Tas Benefice in South Norfolk and the founder of Soul Circus, a regular creative, experimental service supported by the Diocese of Norwich and the Youth Task Force. You can find out more at www.soulcircus.org.uk.
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